The Infinity of God

As part of our series on how God exists and the divine essence we delve into two articles on the infinity of God. This is the first of those two articles on His infinity. On the divine essence, we learned so far about the simplicity of God, His perfection, and His goodness. Today, in Question 7 of Part 1, Thomas digs into God’s infinity, whether there can be an infinite magnitude, and whether there can be an infinite multitude.

First Article

Whether God Is Infinite

God is infinite, Thomas says, and here’s how he demonstrates this:

  1. Matter is made finite by form. Form is made finite by matter.
  2. Matter is first potential to many forms, but when it receives a form it is made finite by that form.
  3. Form is common to many, but when it is received by a particular matter it is then made finite.
  4. Infinite matter, before it is made finite by form, is imperfect because matter without form is formless matter.
  5. Form is contracted, and not made perfect, by matter. Form is infinite when not contracted by matter and thus has the nature of something perfect.
  6. Being is the most formal of all things.
  7. God is a divine being not received in anything, but is his own subsistent being. Therefore, God is infinite and perfect.

Thomas answers objections

The first objection says that, according to Aristotle, everything infinite is imperfect since it has parts and matter. But God cannot be infinite because He is perfect.

In his response, Thomas discusses how mistaken the ancient philosophers were in asserting that the first principle was a material being. There in the demonstration above, however, Thomas shows that form is infinite before it is contracted by matter, so that when it is the being made of form and matter it becomes finite. Therefore, it is impossible for something containing matter to be infinite. God, too, on the other hand can’t be material because when matter is without form it is imperfect and when matter contains a form then it becomes finite, and thus loses a certain nature of perfection. God, as we discussed previously, is simple. He is not a composite of form and matter. So, God is a formal being. He is His own subsistent being and therefore He is perfect and infinite.

Another objection is that finite and infinite are quantities, but God is not a quantity because He is not a body. Therefore, God cannot be infinite.

Since God is not matter, and the infinite of quantity is the infinite of matter, this type of infinity cannot be attributed to God, Thomas replies.

Still another objection is God is finite according to place. He can be one place and not another. He is also finite according to substance. He can’t be something else, such as a wood or stone.

Thomas says that God is self-subsisting, not received in any other, and is infinite. He is distinguished from all other beings and all others are apart from Him. This is something we’ll study more in our next blog titled, “The Essence of God in Things.”

Second Article

Whether Anything but God Can Be Essentially Infinite

Nothing besides God is essentially infinite because everything is from God, who is the first principle. What is infinite has no beginning.

Thomas here speaks of absolute infinity versus relative infinity. Now, relative infinity seems to be a contradiction in terms, but let’s examine this.

Everything that actually exists contains form, and this form determines matter. Once we have the form determining matter, we have the latter determined by the former, which means that matter is finite. Matter now “remains in potentiality to many accidental forms” and is now relatively infinite, though absolutely finite. Thomas shows how wood, for example, is in potentiality to an infinite number of shapes.

Forms are in now way infinite once they are contracted to matter. However, there are some forms that are self-subsisting. So are they absolutely infinite, such as the angels? They are not because their being is derived from something else. They are not their own being. They are not the first principle.

Thomas answers objections

It seems that God has infinite power and therefore can produce an infinite effect.

Thomas answers that it is not possible for a made thing to have the same essence and existence. Subsistent being is not a created being. A made thing cannot be absolutely infinite. God cannot make a thing to be not made, so He cannot make a created thing be absolutely infinite.

The created intellect has infinite power for it can dwell upon the universal which has an infinite number of singular things.

The created intellect could be one of two things, according to Thomas. The intellect could be a form separate and apart from matter as is the case in the substance of angels. Or it is the case that it is the human soul, which is apart from an organ in the body.

Primary matter is apart from God and we have seen previously that it is infinite.

Primary matter does exist in nature since it is only in potentiality and not in actuality. It is relatively infinite because it only extends to natural forms.

Third Article

Whether an Actually Infinite Magnitude Can Exist

Next, we move on to a very difficult topic — the infinity of magnitude and whether it can exist. I say this topic is difficult due to the objections and their replies.

First, let’s begin with Thomas’ initial response. Every body has a surface and that surface is the term of a finite body. This applies to a line as well. Therefore, nothing is infinite in magnitude.

Thomas points out a difference between something that exists in essence and something that exists in magnitude. He grants that something such as fire or air can exist in magnitude, but never in essence “because its essence would be terminated in a species by its form, and confined to individuality by matter.”

Having said this, Thomas goes on to determine whether any creature can be infinite in magnitude either naturally or mathematically.

First, he considers whether any natural body can be infinite in magnitude. It cannot be actually infinite, Thomas says.

“Every natural body has some determined substantial form.” We have seen how matter is not infinite when joined with a form and how form is contracted when it is assigned to a particular matter.

”Since therefore the accidents follow upon the substantial form, it is necessary that determinate accidents should follow upon a determinate form; and among these accidents is quantity.”

“So every natural body has a greater or smaller determinate quantity. Hence, it is impossible for a natural body to be infinite.”

Thomas goes on to demonstrate that an infinite body could not have any movement. It would be impossible for an infinite body to move because it occupies every place and could in no possible way move from one place to another.

An infinite body could not move circularly either. Lines drawn from the center would be infinite and they could never reach each other.

Mathematical bodies are not infinite either, according to St. Thomas. If we imagine a mathematical body actually existing, we would imagine it as having some form. The form for quantity is figure, which would show that a body is finite since it is “confined by a term or boundary.”

Thomas answers objections

Mathematics uses infinitude in magnitude, and, as Aristotle says, there is no deceit in that discipline. A geometrician would say in a demonstration, “Let this line be infinite,” and so forth.

Thomas replies that a geometrician doesn’t need to assume that a line is infinite, but rather simply calls a line infinite.

Another objection is that it does not go against the nature of magnitude to infinite. Finite and infinite belong to quantity.

Thomas says that “although the infinite is not against the nature of magnitude in general, still it is against the nature of any species of it.” It’s impossible to have an infinite bicubical or tricubical magnitude.

A third objection is that since magnitude is infinitely divisible, and since addition is opposed to division, and addition goes up while division goes down, it seems that we are reaching infinity through increase and decrease of numbers.

Thomas says that while we divide we are nearing matter. While we add we are nearing the whole, which has the aspect of form. Here we have form and matter. We especially note the form, which has a term or border.

The fourth objection is that “movement and time have quantity and continuity derived from the magnitude over which movement passes,” according to Aristotle. “Every determinant indivisible in time and circular movement is both a beginning and an end.” Therefore, there is an infinity of magnitude.

Thomas replies that movement and time are potentiality mixed with actuality. The infinite of quantity refers to matter, which is in potentiality, not in an infinite magnitude.

Fourth Article

Whether an Infinite Multitude Can Exist

It is not possible for an infinite multitude to exist, whether it be absolutely infinite or accidentally infinite.

An absolutely infinite multitude cannot exist because a multitude is said to be absolutely infinite “when an infinite multitude is necessary that something may exist.” But this is impossible because for that something to exist it would have to be generated through an infinite medium.

Others, however, argued that something can be accidentally infinite as when “its existence is such is not necessary, but accidental.” Thomas says that for a carpenter, there is art in the soul, movement of the hand, and a hammer. But say that an infinite number of hammers are required because they keep breaking and that the work would be carried on for an infinite amount of time. In this way, we are dealing with an accidentally infinite multitude. (I don’t see the difference between this and absolutely infinite multitude.)

But Thomas says an accidentally infinite multitude is impossible as well. “Every kind of multitude must belong to a species of multitude.” Each species of multitude belongs to a species of number and this would be impossible because there can only be one multitude more than an another in actuality, not an infinity in actuality. Something, however, can be potentially infinite whether that number of multitude be divisible or added. As it is divided it nears matter, as we discussed previously.

Thomas answers objections

An actually infinite multitude is possible because potentiality can become actuality and number can be multiplied to infinity.

Thomas responds that things become actual successively and not all at once. A full day, for instance, becomes actual successively instead of all at once. So too does a larger multitude becomes actual over that of another.

Another objection is that it is possible for there to be an infinite number of actual species. “The species of figures are infinite.”

Thomas states that as an infinite of number is not all reduced to one act, neither is an infinite number of figures.

The final objection is that if we were to suppose that a multitude of species exist, there would be many others that would coexist and that can lead to infinity.

Thomas says that there would be one single species opposed to another if there were an infinite multitude of species.

The Goodness of God

For the first twenty-six blogs in our examination of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, we are discussing God and His perfections. Currently, we are on the topic of how God exists and his divine essence. We’ve discussed his simplicity and continue to discuss his perfection today in this blog. As part of his perfection we are taking a look at his goodness.

This is question 6 of part 1.

First Article

Whether God Is Good

God is good. Thomas says goodness “belongs pre-eminently to God” and that something “is good according to its desirableness.” Here’s how Thomas demonstrates the goodness of God.

Everything “seeks after its own perfection.” Since every agent makes its like, “the perfection and form of an effect consist in a certain likeness to the agent.” The agent “itself is desirable and has the nature of good.” It is desirable because “in it is the participation of its likeness.”

“Therefore, since God is the first effective cause of all things, it is manifest that the aspect of good and of desirableness belong to Him.”

This means that human beings seek what is good. God makes something that is like Himself. Since that is so, our very form is in some way like God. And we desire God because we participate in His likeness.

Thomas answers objections.

Since God is immense and not ordered to anything else, and since goodness consists in mode, species, and order, would there be no goodness in God?

The essence of a caused good consists in mode, species, and order. Since goodness is in God as the cause He imposes mode, species, and order upon others.

Some do not know God and therefore do not desire Him, but since the good is what all things desire how can God be good?

All things desire their own perfection, so therefore they desire God Himself because the perfection of all things is similar to God. There are some who know God as He is Himself, such as rational creatures. Other beings, based on sensory knowledge, know “some participation of His goodness. Still, others have a natural desire to know Him without knowledge of Him and these are “directed to their ends by a higher intelligence.”

Why does this matter?

As human beings we seek after that which is good because it is desirable. God is most desirable of all beings since he is Goodness Himself. We move toward our perfection as we are created in the image and likeness of God. We move toward our very form because it is the effect of a cause that is like us in some way as like is the agent of like. To realize that ultimate goodness is to come to a more perfect realization of ourselves as humans in the order of the likeness of God.

Second Article

Whether God Is the Supreme Good

God is the supreme good. He is the supreme good simply, meaning that when we say “supreme” we are not adding anything to His goodness. He is not a compound. He also doesn’t fall under any genus or species.

Perfections flow from God as He is the first cause, but they do not flow from Him as a univocal agent. That means like from God isn’t like in His effects the same as when a man reproduces man. Instead, His perfections flow to His effects equivocally. To understand this, Thomas uses the example of the sun to that of fire on earth. “Now the likeness of an effect in the univocal cause is found uniformly; but in the equivocal cause it is found more excellently, as, heat is in the sun more excellently than it is in fire.”

To conclude, this means that God is not the univocal cause of all things, although He is the first cause, but His effects are in Him in “a most excellent way” than those of the effects found in things He caused.

Thomas answers objections.

Since God is supremely simple, is not “supreme” an addition to God’s goodness? If so, then He would be a compound, would He not?

Something is supreme in relation to those things that are deficient, not in what is supreme itself. Nothing is added to the absolute good. We call that absolute good supreme because the rest is less than that which is absolutely good.

Since we use the word supreme in other things, such as supreme heat, how can we use it for God because no one is good but God alone, according to Luke 18:19?

This is to be understood as essential good, which we’ll explain in the next article.

How can we say that God is supreme when that shows comparison? After all, God is not contained within any genus and here we are comparing Him to other things contained in genera.

God is the principle of each genus, so we can make that comparison as is understood in excess.

Why does this matter?

This article helps us understand how to understand God as that which we desire the most. There are many things we can say are good, but we are to understand that God is the ultimate goodness behind every good thing. On the other hand, we are not to understand ourselves as good as God even though we receive His goodness in many aspects.

Third Article

Whether to Be Essentially Good Belongs to God Alone

To be essentially good belongs to God alone. Boethius says that “all things but God are good by participation.”

Thomas shows here how God is the only essential good. First, he states that “everything is called good according to its perfection,” then he moves to how the perfection of a thing is threefold. A thing, according to Thomas, is perfect “according to the constitution of its own being; secondly, in respect of any accidents being added as necessary for its perfect operation; thirdly, perfection consists in the attaining to something else as the end.” So, take fire for example. Its perfection consists in its existence. Its accidents are heat, lightness, and dryness. And its end is “to rest in its own place.” Now, compare fire to God according to this threefold of perfection. First, His existence is the same as His essence. Second, He has no accidents. Third, He proceeds to no end but is the end Himself. He is essentially perfect, that is essentially good. God has every kind of perfection by His own essence, which is the same as His existence.

Thomas answers objections.

One is convertible with being, so is good. Since every being is one essentially, should every being not be must be essentially good?

Thomas says that one “does not include the idea of perfection, but only of indivision.” One cannot divide the essences of simple things actually and potentially. When it comes to compound things, one can divide those things potentially, but not actually. So although everything is one essentially, they are not good essentially.

The good is what all things desire. Being itself is what all things desire, so each being is its own good. Since everything is a being essentially, is not everything a good essentially?

“The essence of a creature is not very being,” so it cannot be argued that good is also an essence.

Everything is good essentially. If it were not, it must be good by something else. We would have to proceed to infinity to find that something else whereby it is good or stop at some being that is good that is not good by something else. Therefore, everything is good essentially.

We call good by it because something else is good and not because it is good due to something else being good.

Fourth Article

Whether All Things Are Good by the Divine Goodness

All things are not good by the divine Goodness. It is true that all beings are good, but they are not called beings through the divine being. They are beings through their own being. In the same way, they are not called good through the divine Goodness, but because they are good themselves.

Thomas calls the divine Goodness the “first exemplary effective and final principle of all goodness.” The goodness of everything else is similar to that divine goodness although it has its own form.

— Kin Easter

Of Goodness in General

We have discussed the existence of God in a past blog and moved on to His divine essence with discussions on the simplicity of God and the perfection of God. We remain in our discussion on the perfection of God now by examining what goodness in general means before moving on to the goodness of God.

So let’s begin Question 5, Part 1 of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica.

First Article

Whether Goodness Differs Really from Being

Goodness and being are the same, and here’s how. Goodness, as Aristotle says, is what we desire. We desire it because it is perfect. That which is perfect, however, is that which is desirable. That which is perfect exists. Since goodness is fully actual, not lacking anything, it exists. If it exists, then it is being, and so goodness is being.

Thomas answers objections

Boethius said, “I perceive that in nature the fact that things are good is one thing: that they are is another.” Does that not mean that goodness and being are not the same?

Not exactly. First, we know that something has being as long as it is not in complete potentiality. Each thing has what Thomas calls “substantial being.” Viewed in its complete actuality, one sees being as relative when comparing its actuality to potentiality against other beings. On the other hand, that which is ultimately good, which is ultimately perfect, is simply good. That which is good, but not ultimately good, has some perfection, or some actuality. However, it is not simply good. Rather, it is relatively good. So a thing in its substantial being, even only in being relatively because it still has some potentiality, is simply being. But a good that has some potentiality is not simply good. Instead, it’s relatively good. Turn it around and you’ll find that even a being viewed in its complete actuality is now absolute being while a good in its complete actuality is simply good. So now let’s go over Boethius’ statement: “I perceive that in nature the fact that things are good is one thing: that they are is another.” This statement speaks of a thing having being simply and a thing having good simply. There’s no such being in nature and, therefore, Boethius was right.

According to the commentary De Causis, good has the form of being. But is it not true that nothing can be its own form?

Goodness is only a form when it signifies complete actuality.

Goodness can be more or less while being cannot be more or less, so does that not mean they cannot be the same?

We speak of a more or less goodness only when we consider what Thomas calls “super-added actuality,” such as knowledge or virtue. And that’s all Thomas said about that.

Second Article

Whether Goodness Is Prior in Idea to Being

Being is prior to goodness in idea. The intellect first conceives the meaning of the name of a thing. It first conceives being because only what is in actuality is that which is knowable.

Thomas answers objections

Since Pseudo-Dionysius in his work the Divine Names assigned Goodness as first of God’s names preceeding Being, it would seem that in idea God’s goodness comes before being, right?

Thomas says that since we creatures name God, as the effect names its cause, Pseudo-Dionysius was implying a causal relationship in his Divine Names. Now when we seek goodness, we are seeking something desirable. This implies a final causal relationship. What is the final cause? It is the end, what the maker intends to make or the doer intends to do. Goodness is something that is desirable, and to achieve that end is to achieve something good, something desirable. There are four causes. There is the efficient cause, the material cause, and the formal cause, along with the final cause. We’ll worry about those other causes later, but right now we’re discussing the final cause. Thomas says that the final cause is the cause of all causes because “an agent does not act except for some end” and that the agent (i.e., the doer or maker) can take a rock, that has no form of a statue, is carved into a statue, which would then have the form of a statue. So why did Pseudo-Dionysius assign Goodness as first of God’s names over Being? According to Thomas, “goodness, as a cause, is prior to being, as is the end to the form.” Thomas, in this answer to this objection, leads into his answer to the next objection by discussing how the Platonists viewed matter. They viewed it as non-being. However, goodness extends to non-being because matter strives to be like its form. Being, on the other hand, doesn’t extend to non-being.

Pseudo-Dionysius once said that “goodness extends to things both existing and non-existing; whereas existence extends to existing things alone.” Since that which is the more extensive is prior in idea, and, based on the words of Pseudo-Dionysius, goodness is more extensive than being, would goodness not be prior in idea to being?

Goodness extends to existing and non-existing things alike as its cause, not only to those which simply do not exist but to those things that are in potentiality. Here it is important to note that it is the final cause, goodness, that extends to existing and non-existing things while it is not predicated of them. Being, on the other hand, is not a cause of being and non-being alike.

Goodness would seem to be more universal than being because it is desirable; even non-existence is desirable to some. Take Judas and his suicide, for instance. Now that which is more universal is prior in idea, so would not goodness be prior in idea than being?

Non-being is a relative good. It is desirable if it means doing so removes a particular evil. But on the matter of being and its desirability, removing an evil is only desirable if that evil deprives some being itself. That makes being desirable of itself.

Is goodness not a universal appetible and being a particular appetible since not only is goodness desirable but life and knowledge among other things?

Thomas says that life and wisdom are desirable only when they are actual. So their very being is desired. Thomas says that “nothing can be desired except being; and consequently nothing is good except being.”

Third Article

Whether Every Being Is Good

“All being is good,” Thomas says, “for all being has actuality and is in some way perfect; since every act implies some sort of perfection; and perfection implies desirability and goodness . . . Hence it follows that every being as such is good.”

Thomas answers objections

It doesn’t seem that every being is good because isn’t goodness something super-added to being? Also, would goodness not limit being because you’re adding something to it as you would substance, quantity, quality, etc.?

It is true that substance, quantity, quality, etc., limit being, but desirability and perfection are proper to being, so goodness doesn’t add anything to being and thus doesn’t limit it.

Some things you would call evil and Isaiah said not to call good evil and evil good. So how can we say every being is good?

We only speak of a being as evil when it lacks something, such as a man who lacks virtue or an eye that lacks sight.

Since goodness implies desirability, and primary matter is not that which is desirable, but is that which desires, does it not seem that primary matter does not contain the formality of goodness?

Primary matter has potential being, “so it is only potentially good.” “It does participate to a certain extent in goodness.”

Aristotle says that “in mathematics goodness does not exist.” Now, mathematics are entities since science studies them, so obviously there’s not good in every being.

Aristotle was right because mathematics do not subsist in realities since they “have only logical existence, inasmuch as they are abstracted from motion and matter.”

Fourth Article

Whether Goodness Has the Aspect of a Final Cause

Goodness is what all things desire, Thomas says. “Since this has the aspect of an end, it is clear that goodness implies the aspect of an end.” The idea of goodness presupposes the idea of the efficient cause and that of the formal cause. The efficient cause is the maker or doer. The formal cause is the form itself. Thomas says that the last in the thing caused is the first in causing. That means that even though the maker or doer moves the object closer to its form before coming up with the end product or result, the end product or result precedes the maker or doer. How is that possible? That is possible because the final cause, the end product or result, is what moves the agent to act. What follows the agent in action is the agent moving the object to form (efficient cause) followed by the form itself (the formal cause). Now from the perspective of what is caused we see that goodness (the final cause) is first, the agent (or efficient cause) is second, and the form (or formal cause) is last.

Thomas answers objections

Pseudo-Dionysius once said that “goodness is praised as beauty.” Beauty is a formal cause, so does it not seem here that goodness is a formal cause rather than a final cause?

Beauty and goodness are identical fundamentally, but they differ logically. They are identical fundamentally because they are based upon form. They are different logically because goodness relates to the appetite whereas beauty relates to the cognitive faculty. Since goodness relates to the appetite it has the aspect of an end. Beauty, on the other hand, “pleases when seen.”

Would goodness not also seem to be an efficient cause rather than a formal cause because Pseudo-Dionysius seems to say that goodness is self-giving?

“Goodness is described as self-diffusive in the sense that an end is said to move.”

Augustine said that “we exist because God is good.” So would that not make goodness an efficient cause since we owe our existence to God?

“The will relates to its end as the final object.” Here, we are discussing the end, not the maker. God’s will is good because He wills toward a good end.

Fifth Article

Whether the Essence of Goodness Consists in Mode, Species, and Order

Thomas affirms that the essence of goodness consists in mode, species, and order. He quotes Augustine here, who says, “These three — mode, species, order — as common good things, are in everything God has made; thus, where these three abound the things are very good; where they are less, the things are less good; where they do not exist at all, there can be nothing good.” In his reply, Thomas explains how mode, species, and order are good. First, let’s discuss mode. Thomas says that “the form presupposes determination or commensuration of its principles, whether material or efficient, and this is signified by the mode.” What is meant by commensuration? According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, commensuration is something “equal in measure or extent.” Thomas is referring to the commensuration of the formal cause to the material and efficient causes. Table-ness as a formal cause would not make sense if its efficient cause is chair or its material cause is plate. The chair is not its maker and the plate is not its matter. Rather, the table maker is the efficient cause and the particular table is the material cause. It must be commensurate. All of this is referring to mode. “The measure,” Thomas says, “marks the mode.” As the presupposing of the determination or commensuration of the form’s principles is signified by the mode, the form itself is signified by the species. “For everything is placed in its species by its form.” Finally, “upon the form follows an inclination to the end, or to an action, or to something of the sort.” Here we are talking about that which signifies order. “Everything, in so far as it is in act, acts and tends toward that which is in accordance with its form.” Thomas demonstrates how these three — mode, species, and order — deal with form, which deals with goodness. In order for a thing to be good, it must have a form, “together with all that precedes and follows upon that form.”

Thomas answers objections

Goodness and being differ logically, but mode, species, and order seem to belong to the nature of being, according to what is said in the book of Wisdom and by Augustine. So does it not seem that these three don’t belong to goodness?

Mode, species, and form follow upon being only if it is perfect, and perfection is goodness.

Would every mode, every species, and every order each have its own mode, species, and order in endless succession since the essence of goodness consists in mode, species, and order?

Mode, species, and order formally constitute others good. They are not formally constituted good by something else. “They have no need of other things whereby they are good.” They are good and they are beings. They are not subsistences.

Since evil is the privation of mode, species, and order, but is not the absence of goodness, then would it not seem that the essence of goodness does not consist in mode, species, and order?

Since all beings have a form they each have a mode, species, and order. Man himself has a mode, species, and order, but each being that is predicated of him, e.g. learned, as well has a mode, species, and order. Thomas uses the example of blindness to make his conclusion. He says that blindness is a deprivation of the being of sight and only that of sight and is called evil. But it is not a deprivation of the other mode, species, and order of each other being particular to the man.

Since we speak of an evil mode, species, and order, then should goodness not consist in these three?

In his response, Thomas quotes Augustine here as saying, “Every mode, as mode, is good (and the same can be said of species and order). But an evil mode, species, and order are so called as being less than they ought to be, or as not belonging to that to which they ought to belong. Therefore they are called evil, because they are out of place and incongruous.”

Since mode, species, and order are caused by weight, number, and measure, but Ambrose says that light is not caused by weight, number, and measure, then does it not seem that the essence of good does not consist in mode, species, and order?

Light is not absolutely without weight, number, and measure, but only in comparison to corporeal things.

Sixth Article

Whether Goodness Is Rightly Divided into the Virtuous, the Useful, and the Pleasant?

Goodness is rightly divided into the virtuous, the useful, and the pleasant. How are they done so? Thomas says that the ultimate term, or end, of a movement can be taken in two ways — “either as the thing itself toward which it tends . . . or a state of rest in that thing.” First, let’s look at the “thing itself toward which it tends.” We can divide that into the useful and the virtuous. It is useful when, in the movement of the appetite, the thing desired terminates the movement of the appetite relatively, “as a means by which something tends toward another.” It is virtuous when the last thing sought after absolutely terminates the movement of the appetite. “For the virtuous is that which is desired for its own sake.” The other the ultimate term, or end, of a movement can be taken by way of what is pleasant. It is “that which terminates the movement of the appetite in the form of rest in the thing desired.”

Thomas answers objections

Since goodness is divided by the ten predicaments, according to Aristotle, how can it be rightly divided into the virtuous, the useful, and the pleasant?

This division is divided according to its “proper formality.”

Every division is made by opposites, but the virtuous, the useful, and the pleasant are not opposites. So how can goodness be rightly divided into these three?

Goodness is not divided by three things, but by three aspects. The pleasant can be sometimes hurtful and contrary to virtue. The useful does not find its end in something desirable itself but in something that can take it further, such as into the virtuous. The virtuous is something desirable in itself.

The useful here is divided against the virtuous and the pleasant, but should it not be virtuous and pleasing in order to be goodness?

We’re not talking here about three equally divided things, but three things that have rank and order. So the virtuous is first, followed by the pleasant, then the useful.

— Kin Easter

The Perfection of God

This past week we dealt with the simplicity of God. Today we are going to examine God’s perfection. Many of the principles found in this past week’s discussion will provide background for today.

Let’s begin with Question 4, Part 1 of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica.

First Article

Whether God Is Perfect

Thomas is quite brief here in answering this question. His argument here is based on the difference between actuality and potentiality. There is nothing besides God that is fully act. Everything else is to some degree or other in a state of potentiality. As the efficient cause; that is, the cause of everything; He is fully act. So what does actuality have to do with perfection?

Thomas argues that “a thing is perfect in proportion to its state of actuality.” The closer it is to perfection, the more it is actual than potential. As we’ve discussed before, our intellect is more actual than that of a beast because we have reason whereas the beast does not. Why the greater the actuality, the closer to perfection? It’s because that which has perfection lacks nothing. A thing that lacks something now is in potentiality but becomes actual when it acquires what is lacking. But God lacks nothing. He is therefore actual. And since he lacks nothing, He is also perfect.

Thomas answers objections

A thing has been called perfect when it is completely made. We may at times refer to creation as perfect because God made it. However, we understand that God is not made. So if He’s not made, does that mean He is not perfect?

Certainly not. We call created things perfect because they moved from some degree of potentiality to some degree of actuality.

A seed is the beginning of a tree, but it is not perfect. God is the beginning of everything else, so does that mean He is not perfect?

Not necessarily. A seed is matter. Matter is not perfect. It is not absolutely primal. The seed is potentially a tree. Another tree, which is actual, preceded that seed. Since actuality is compared to perfection, that preceding tree is more perfect than the seed, which is in a state of potentiality. Ultimately, the beginning of things is the most actual, and therefore the most perfect, which is God.

Since, as we’ve discussed previously, God’s essence is His existence, would He not be imperfect because of His existence? After all, existence is the “most universal and receptive of all modification.”

Not at all. Existence is the “most perfect of things” because it is the most actual of things. Existence makes all things actual, even forms.

Second Article

Whether the Perfection of All Things Are in God

The perfections of all things are in God, Thomas affirms. Thomas says He is universally perfect because he doesn’t lack any excellence that can be found in any genus; that is, any class of objects divided into any subordinate species. There are two ways Thomas demonstrates this.

Whatever perfection an effect has can be found in the effective cause. God is the first effective cause so therefore the perfection of things exist in Him.

Secondly, God is existence itself. His very essence is His own existence as we discussed in our previous blog. That means God lacks nothing. As Thomas says, He must contain within Himself the whole perfection of being.

Thomas answers objections

God is simple, but “the perfections of things are many and diverse.” How can the perfection of all things be in God when He is simple? Secondly, opposites cannot coexist in a subject. There are differences among genera. Since opposites cannot coexist in a subject, how can the perfection of genera coexist in God?

The sun, Thomas answers, “while remaining one and shining uniformly contains within itself first and uniformly the substances of sensible things, and many and diverse qualities.” Since this is so, the perfection of things should preexist in a “kind of natural unity” within its cause, which is God Himself.

(I’m not really sure how in this answer Thomas perceives the sun. Here he is quoting Pseudo-Dionysius.)

Since knowledge is more perfect than life and life is more perfect than mere existence, would God not contain within Himself the perfections of life and knowledge since His essence is existence itself?

No, God’s existence includes life and wisdom because He is perfect. He lacks nothing.

Third Article

Whether Any Creature Can Be Like God

God said, “Let us make man in our image and likeness” (Gen. 1:26).

Thomas expounds upon three different types of likeness when comparing two beings.

First, there are two things that are equal in their likeness. Two things may be equally white and Thomas says this is “the most perfect likeness.”

Second, there is imperfect likeness as when something is more white than another although both may be white.

Third, and this is where the argument for our likeness with God applies, there is a likeness in which a thing participates in the likeness according to “some sort of analogy.” Let’s examine this. Thomas says that the effect must in some way resemble the form of the agent. If the agent shares the same species as the effect, we have a univocal likeness as when man reproduces man. There still remains a likeness between the agent and the effect even if they don’t belong in the same species. In the case of God, we have an agent who is not found in any genus as we discussed in the previous blog. This is when the effect “more distantly” reproduces the form of the agent in some sort of analogy while not sharing the same genus or species.

Thomas answers objections

Since, according to the Psalms, “there is none among the gods like unto thee,” it would seem that even the best of the creatures, the ones we call the gods, are still lesser than God. So how can we even be like God?

According to Pseudo-Dionysius, we can be like and unlike God. We are like God when we imitate Him as much as we can. We are unlike God when we fall short of His glory and as we are not like Him in genus and species.

Should we not be like God because, as we discussed previously, He does not fall under any genus whereas we do?

God does not fall under any genus but transcends all genera and is the principle of all genera.

Since God’s essence is the same as His existence, we cannot be like God in form, right?

As discussed above, likeness of creatures to God is not based upon form, but on an analogy.

How can we be like God when, if that is so, it would make God like a creature, which is false?

We may find likeness between things, but a likeness found in the order of cause and effect denotes the former greater than the latter. For example, a man and his statue may be alike, but man is greater than the statue. We never say a statue is greater than its likeness, the man.

— Kin Easter

Of the Simplicity of God

This week we are going to discuss the simplicity of God. Why does St. Thomas Aquinas deal with this topic here? Last time, we dealt with the existence of God. Now we will deal with the manner of his existence over the next few weeks. During these weeks we will discuss His simplicity, His perfection, His infinity, His immutability, and His unity.

First, we discuss His simplicity as we delve into what God is not. It’s impossible to know what God is; that is, His essence. But we can learn more about Him by what He is not.

In discussing His simplicity, we learn that God is not a composite. That means he is not composed of form and matter. We’ll learn what all this mean’s in this week’s blog.

Let’s begin our discussion on Question 3, Part 1 of the Summa Theologica, the simplicity of God.

First Article

Whether God Is a Body

Is God a body? There are scriptural reasons that seem to make it plausible. Job 11:8-9 talk about God being higher than Heaven, deeper than Hell, longer than the earth, and broader than the sea. He seems to have a figure in Sacred Scripture (Heb. 1:3). He made man in “our” image and likeness. He has an arm in Job 40:4, eyes in Psalms 33:16, and a right hand in Psalms 118:16. He even sits and stands in Isaiah.

Despite these evidences in the scriptures, Thomas emphatically says, no, God is not a body. “It is absolutely true” He’s not. There are three reasons why Thomas argues this.

Since God is the First Mover, as we have seen from the previous blog, He cannot be a body. God cannot be moved. Only bodies are moved.

Whatever is in potentiality can only be reduced to actuality by something in actuality. Since God is the First Mover, nothing, of course, moves Him. He is always in actuality as every body is in potentiality.

God is the most noble of beings, so it is impossible that God is a body. A body is not the most noble of beings because it requires the soul to animate it. If the soul is animating it, then it is nobler than the body. But if God were a body, He would have something greater animating it. Therefore, God cannot be a body.

So what about all those passages of scripture that say God has an arm and eyes and that seem to give him dimensions as if he had a body?

First, Job 11:8-9 described God as higher than Heaven, deeper than Hell, longer than the earth, and broader than the sea. Aquinas responded by using Pseudo-Dionysius’ saying that “by the depth of God is meant the incomprehensibility of His essence; by His length, the procession of His all-pervading power; by breadth, His overspreading all things, inasmuch all things lie under His protection.” Scripture, Thomas said, uses corporeal things to explain spiritual and divine things.

Hebrews 1:3 cites God as having a figure, “i.e., the image of His substance.” Therefore, since God has a figure, He has a body. Thomas did acknowledge that we are made after God’s image, but image in an intellectual sense and not in a corporeal sense.

Scripture may seem to give God body parts and posture, respectively. In scripture, God has an eye, an arm, etc., but these, according to Thomas, are only accounted for as God’s actions are concerned. The same goes for God’s sitting down and standing up. These two signify different things symbolically.

Finally, men may either approach or depart from God as if He is in one place. Being in one place, thus, shows that He is a body. But Thomas explained that we draw near to God by the “affections of our soul” and we do withdraw from Him with that same soul.

Second Article

Whether God Is Composed of Matter and Form

So here we are learning what God is not. And here, He is not a composite.

Thomas has three reasons why God is not the composite; i.e., composed in matter and form. First, we have seen in the previous blog that God is pure act without any potentiality. Matter, on the other hand, is in potentiality because it needs the form to animate it. So, God cannot be matter because matter is in potentiality, and therefore God is not composed of matter and form.

Second, our perfection and goodness as human beings is owed to our form. This is a participated good. But God is the essential good, which precedes the participated good. Therefore, He is not composed of matter and form.

The third argument is that whatsoever is primarily and essentially an agent must be primarily and essentially a form. This is so because “every agent acts by its form.” Thomas said that God is the first agent because He is the first efficient cause. So, it must be concluded that since He is the first efficient cause He must therefore be the primarily and essentially a form.

Does God have a soul? If He does, then He would have to be composed of matter and form since the soul is the form of the body. Hebrews 10:38 says that “if he withdraw himself, he shall not please my soul.” Thomas refutes this suggestion by saying that whenever the scriptures speak of God’s soul, it is referring to God’s will.

Another objection is one that seems to repeat itself so far in our study of the Summa. God is showing emotion. This seems to show that God is a composite. Thomas, of course, said that any description of God’s so-called emotions is only to show an effect, such as the punishment of man that would seem to come from an angry being.

There’s a third objection in which Thomas gave a very complicated response. The objection was that since matter is the principle of individualization, and that God is individual, then He must be composed of matter and form. Thomas said that God’s form is self-subsisting and “is individualized precisely because it cannot be received in a subject.” Therefore, it cannot be received in matter.

Third Article

Whether God Is the Same As His Essence or Nature

God is the same as His essence or nature. Man is not. What does that mean?

Before we ask that question, let’s define a word that Thomas uses in this article: suppositum. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia online, it is the “generic word which includes all individual existing substances.” This is different than species. For example, humanity is a species. A particular man is contained within the species of humanity. We cannot say, however, that this particular man is humanity; that is, he is not his own essence. But we can say that God is His own Godhead. God is His own essence.

Man is form and matter. His form is his species, his matter is his particular body. God, on the other hand, is not composed of matter and form. His form, as Thomas says, is the subsisting suppositum.

We cannot say that the Godhead is in God. God is the Godhead. To say that God is in the Godhead is to say that God is a composite. We speak as far as our intellect understands. That’s why we say the Godhead is in God. But our intellect is deficient when attempting to speak or think of these things.

Fourth Article

Whether Essence and Existence Are the Same in God

God is the first efficient cause. We, ourselves, may cause something else to happen, but we didn’t cause our own existence. Since our essence is different than our existence, an exterior agent is the cause of our existence. After all, our essence doesn’t cause our existence. But nothing causes God’s existence because He is the first efficient cause. Therefore, his essence and existence is the same, unlike ours.

Thomas demonstrates that God’s essence and existence are the same in another way. We have said before that God is fully act. He is never, to any degree, in potentiality. Keeping that in mind, Thomas says existence is what makes every form or nature actual. Think of goodness. It is a form, but it can be made actual. Not only is God good, but He is Goodness itself. And He is fully act, so too is God, as Goodness, fully act. He exists as we’ve discussed in our last blog, and goodness in perfection exists. Therefore, Thomas concludes that existence is to essence as actuality is to potentiality. But in God there is no potentiality. Therefore, God’s essence is no different than His existence.

In yet another demonstration, Thomas makes the point that if God’s essence were not the same as His existence then He would only be a participated Being and not an essential Being. Thomas says that would be absurd because God is the first Being. What is participated being? Thomas says to imagine something that is on fire yet not fire itself. It is on fire by participation. In the same way, that which is not existence itself but has existence is a being by participation. If God does not have His own existence then he exists by participation. That could not be possible because He is essential Being rather than participated Being.

Fifth Article

Whether God Is Contained in a Genus

First of all, Thomas made clear that God cannot be in any genus because a genus presupposes something that exists within it. But nothing can presuppose God, therefore God is not a genus.

This argument would seem to suffice, but Thomas gave three more proofs that God cannot be a genus. These proofs are rather difficult to express.

Following Aristotelian logic, a being is classified under a species, which is classified under a genus. For example, an individual man and an individual horse are classified under the genus animal. The individual man, however, is classified under the species man, while the individual horse is classified under the species horse. Within the genus of animal itself, man and horse are alike, but they are two different species. One is sensible only, while the other is not only sensible, but rational. That’s the difference between the two species. When a being moves from sensitivity alone to rationality, then it becomes more actual and less potential, and so it is with other comparisons. God, though, is complete act as we have discussed, but in Him there is no actuality added to potentiality as in man in which he moves from sensible to rational. Unlike a man, he cannot be contained within a species.

The second argument is as follows: God’s existence and essence are the same, as we’ve discussed. If He were contained within a genus, His genus would be being since God’s essence is His being and genus refers to the essence of a thing. Aristotle, however, has demonstrated that genus cannot be a being. A genus would have a difference with another genus and no difference can exist apart from being. That would be non-being, but if it’s non-being then how could it exist? Therefore, God is not a genus.

And finally the third argument – those things within a genus, such as man and horse may share the essence of animal and that’s why they’re in the same genus. But they do not share the same existence – man and horse. Nevertheless, we have seen how in God there is no difference between existence and essence. Therefore, God cannot be contained within a genus.

Sixth Article

Whether in God There Are Any Accidents

According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, an accident is a “nonessential property or quality of an entity or circumstance.” So, for example, an arm is the accident of the substance man. The question here is whether in God there are any accidents.

Thomas argues there are no accidents in God. Keep in my that every accident is contained in a subject. God cannot be a subject, though, as Boethius says, due to his simplicity. Thomas demonstrates first that since a subject is made actual through its accidents, God cannot be a subject nor have his accidents because this would presuppose that He moves from potentiality to actuality.

Thomas also reasons that since absolute heat can have nothing added to it other than heat, likewise absolute being, God, cannot have anything added to it.

Third, since the constituent principles cause accidents within the substance, this cannot be true of God because nothing can be caused in God since He is the first cause.

Seventh Article

Whether God Is Altogether Simple

Thomas summarizes many of his points throughout this question to show that God is altogether simple. Again, what do we mean by simple? It means that He is not a composite of matter and form. We have demonstrated that God is not a body; that His nature does not differ from His suppositum; that His essence does not differ from His existence; that He doesn’t fall under a genus; nor that He has accidents. All these things show He is altogether simple.

Thomas goes on to say that every composite is posterior to its composite parts, and is dependent upon them. That means the parts are necessary before the whole, such as the brick and mortar before the building. This cannot be so with God because He is Himself the first being.

All components have a cause. Their parts come together when something causes them to do so. But that doesn’t happen with God because nothing causes God to be.

With every composite there is actuality and potentiality. With God, however, not one part actuates another, nor do all the parts make up the whole because, again, God is the first Being.

God is absolute form, unlike composite things. In composite things, there is something which is not itself. Thomas uses the example of a foot. A part of the foot is not a foot. It may be a toe, but that is not the foot. But in God there is nothing that is unlike Him.

Eighth Article

Whether God Enters into the Composition of Other Things

God cannot enter into the composition of anything, formally or materially. There are reasons for this as Thomas explains.

First, God is the first efficient cause. Think of a father having a son. Their forms are specifically man, but they are not identically the same man. God, however, is not the same formally with man. Also, primary matter cannot be the same identically or specifically with the efficient cause because primary matter is potential while the efficient cause acts upon it and is therefore actual.

Second, God is the first essential cause and we have seen how that makes him completely actual. He cannot enter into the composition of the thing because, if that were to happen, what was caused is what is acting. That cannot be with God.

Third, God is the absolutely primal being. God cannot be part of a composite if He is primal being. A form part of a compound is participated form, which falls after essential form, God Himself. Therefore, God is the absolutely primal being since He is essential form.

— Kin Easter