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