Summa Theologiae 1, qq. 2-13

Question 2:  The Existence of God
Question 8:  God's Existence in Things
Question 3:  God's Simplicity
Question 9:  God's Immutability
Question 4:  God's Perfection
Question 10:  God's Eternity
Question 5:  The Good in General
Question 11:  God's Oneness
Question 6:  God's Goodness Question 12:  How We Know God
Question 7:  God's Infinity
Question 13:  The Names of God


Question 2:  The Existence of God
  • General comments:  At first the very posing of this question might seem strange.  After all, if we are taking our starting points at least in part from Christian revelation, then in that case the existence of God seems certain a priori.  It's part of that revelation, after all.  Why, then, introduce arguments from natural reason for God's existence?  What is the point?

    Actually, there seem to be several points, some of which become evident as the question proceeds and others of which lie in the background.

    The first thing to notice is that St. Thomas is here using the name 'God' as a common name in what we might call the "Gallup poll" sense of 'God'.  When people are asked by pollsters whether or not they believe in God, most say yes.  But by 'God' they seem to mean something fairly vague like 'some sort of ultimate principle of the universe'.  Some might in addition think of God as personal or as in some way the source of the meaning of life, but just what this God is remains shrouded in darkness.  (A lot of us seem to accept the existence of God but are fearful of a God who might, say, interfere with the sort of comfortable life to which we've become accustomed.)  This is the broad sense in which St. Thomas uses the term here.  In fact, he argues that the name 'God'  is, though a common name, not a 'quidditative name', i.e., a natural kind term of the sort that allows us to "wrap our minds" around a species or a genus in the way necessary to begin scientific inquiry.  That is, it's not a name like 'armadillo' or 'red oak tree', by which we are able to give a rough and ready taxonomy of the material substances we come into sensory contact with and so begin to study them scientifically.  To the contrary, and in conscious opposition to St. Anselm, St. Thomas seems to insist that the common name 'God' is a placeholder for one or another 'description of supereminence', e.g., 'first efficient cause' or 'ultimate necessary being' or 'ultimate principle of the universe' or 'source of being and goodness for all things' or 'intelligent orderer of all things'.  Even though these descriptions might implicitly contain more than meets the eye, they do not on the surface give us anything like the God of classical theism.  For instance, notice that even after the proofs for the existence of 'God', St. Thomas takes it to be necessary to give additional and separate arguments in question 3 even for such a weak conclusion as that God is not a body or material substance.  This shows that a philosophical proof for an uncaused cause or a first efficient cause or a necessary being, etc., is not in itself a proof of the existence of the sort of God revealed to Abraham or Moses, to say nothing of the God of full-blown Christian revelation.  In fact, in ST 2-2, q. 2, a. 2, ad 3, St. Thomas flat-out denies that non-believers believe in God in the same sense that believers do:

    "Non-believers do not believe in God under the same conception with which the act of faith is posited.  For they do not believe that God has those determinations which faith lays down."  [..... credere Deum non convenit infidelibus sub ea ratione qua ponitur actus fidei.  Non enim credunt Deum esse sub his conditionibus quas fides determinat."]

    The very best that non-believers can do is to prove the existence of God under some such description as those noted above.  But this is to think of God in a way that falls far short of the mysteries of the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, and the Church, wherein God is seen in three persons:  Loving Father, Word Made Flesh, and Holy Spirit.  St. Thomas concludes, "And so non-believers do not truly believe in God, since as the Philosopher says in Metaphysics 9, when it comes to simple entities, the only possible defect in one's cognition of them lies in not grasping them at all."  [Et ideo nec vere Deum credunt:  quia ut Philosophus dicit, IX Metaphys., in simplicibus defectus cognitionis est solum in non attingendo totaliter."]

    But this having been said, the question seems even more pressing:  Why bother with the proofs from natural reason, especially in light of the fact that they fall short of what we start off with via revelation?

    One reason is that these arguments provide us with a philosophically sophisticated articulation of that simple and natural understanding of God that is presupposed by divine revelation.  That is, God must communicate to us in a way that is adapted to our way of thinking and understanding.  And St. Thomas believes that our experience of the world triggers a natural wonder and desire for truth and goodness that we in some sense turn into an understanding of God, even if this understanding is woefully incomplete and, indeed, distorted in some crucial ways.  It is in this sense, for instance, that pagan mythologies -- at least the ones that haven't been completely corrupted -- serve as a preparation for the Gospel.  (On this point, see Chesterton's The Everlasting Man, Part One, chaps. 4-8.)  So we are open to God's self-revelation in part because we sense that the world is mysterious and requires an explanation and, what's more, because we naturally seek to make sense of our lives within a broader cosmological framework.

    Consistent with this, a second reason for the proofs is to provide us with certain names of God, derived from His effects, that allow us to formulate a systematic separation of literal from metaphorical attributions of predicates to God in Sacred Scripture.  This will become clearer as we proceed through question 3 on God's simplicity.  It is important to see that (a) the nature of the Old Testament, given its intended audience, makes the use of metaphor with respect to God unavoidable (remember q. 1, a. 9) and that (b) it is thus imperative that we have some sophisticated and principled way of separating literal from metaphorical ascriptions of predicates to God.

    Finally, a third reason:  It is part of the task of Sacra Doctrina to divide the deliverances of faith into those that can and those that cannot be established by natural reason.   Therefore, the question of whether God's existence can be established without recourse to revelation is itself a properly theological question and one that has played an important (though sometimes exaggerated) role within mainstream Catholic thought.

  • 2,1:  Here St. Thomas rejects a priori proofs of God's existence such as Anselm's so-called 'ontological' proof.  He is firmly convinced, rightly or wrongly, that our only natural access to God comes through sensory experience of the world, where the world and various significant aspects of it (e.g., change, end-oriented operation, and contingency) are treated as effects.  (On St. Thomas's view, even our knowledge of our own minds and of our various cognitive and affective operations presupposes sensory experience of the world 'outside' us.)  Speaking at a very general level, this is part of St. Thomas's Aristotelianism, which grants a certain autonomy and importance to secondary (i.e., created) causes and the study of them.  (However, we will also see lots of Platonism as we go along.)

    St. Thomas makes a distinction between what is knowable per se in itself and what is knowable per se to one or another rational subject.  Per se knowability in itself is had by a proposition when the definition of its subject includes the definition of its predicate.  However, I know such a proposition per se only if I grasp that the definition of the subject includes the definition of the predicate.  In some simple cases we can assume that the two coincide for every normal human being who has reached the 'age of reason'.  For instance, all such people know per se that a whole is greater than a proper part of it, but only a few people know per se the per se knowable proposition that incorporeal beings do not exist in a place.  This is known per se only to those who are wise in the relevant respect.

    It is worth reflecting a moment on the person who thinks that an incorporeal substance must exist in a place.  We don't want to deny that he understands the concept incorporeal substance; otherwise, he would not be able to entertain or assert the false belief in question.  Perhaps we can say that he lacks an 'effective grasp' of the concept incorporeal substance.  In the same way, before he hears Anselm's argument the fool lacks an effective grasp of the concept that than which a greater cannot be thought. (Later I will suggest that St. Thomas denies that Anselm's argument is sufficient to give one an effective grasp of this concept.)

    So, says St. Thomas, if we effectively grasped the essence of God (or the real definition of God), we would know per se that God exists.  But in this life we are not wise in this respect -- only God and the blessed in heaven are.  (The blessed in heaven have a "face-to-face" cognition of God.  See q. 12.)  Our present access to God is limited to knowing Him through His effects and not through His essence; that is, we do not have the same sort of initial cognitive grasp of God that we have of, say, aardvarks and oak trees.  Therefore, the proposition 'God exists' is not known per se by us.  (Notice, by the way, that the more detailed cognition we have in the theoretical sciences of physical substances includes, once again, many propositions that are per se knowable only to those who are 'wise' in those sciences.  The difference between this knowledge and our knowledge of God is that the former is at least in principle such that we (i.e., normal members of our species) can have it in this life.)

    What about St. Anselm's argument, then?  Here things get a bit murky.

    St. Thomas's first reply is that not everyone uses the term 'God' in the way it is used in St. Anselm's argument, viz., to mean 'that than which a greater cannot be thought' or 'most perfect possible being'.  This is true enough, but on the assumption that any normal human being can grasp the meaning of 'that than which a greater cannot be thought', we can simply bypass the term 'God' and reformulate the argument using just the phrase 'that than which a greater cannot be thought'.

    The second objection is that even if one does mean this by the term 'God', he does not thereby believe that such a being exists in reality "outside of the intellect's apprehension."  Once again, this is true enough, but, to put it in St. Thomas's own terms, Anselm's argument seems intended to make the gainsayer 'wise' with respect to the proposition 'God (or:  that than which a greater cannot be thought) exists'.  After all, if the argument is successful, then the 'fool' who denies in his heart that there is a being than which a greater cannot be thought is shown by the argument to be like the fool who denies that incorporeal beings do not exist in a place.  That is, one might claim that Anselm's argument is intended precisely to give the fool an effective grasp of the relevant concept and thus to convince him that he cannot consistently maintain that there is no being than which a greater cannot be thought.  So -- on the surface at least -- St. Thomas's objection seems to beg the question against St. Anselm's argument.  (Of course, someone might claim that only a few people are capable of even so much as understanding Anselm's argument.  This might limit the usefulness of the argument, but it is hard to see how it counts against the argument itself.  After all, Anselm's argument seems no harder to grasp than, say, the argument for the existence of a first efficient cause that is found in Summa Contra Gentiles 1, chap. 13.)  

    Can St. Thomas's objection be salvaged here?  I think perhaps it can be.  But to see how, we have to look at St. Thomas's own conception of natural theology.  (What follows is useful even if it does not really express St. Thomas's criticism of Anselm's argument.  I say this to indicate the level of confidence I have in reading St. Thomas's critique in such a way that it doesn't come out begging the question against Anselm.  Maybe he does just beg the question ..... .)

    St. Thomas's natural theology is divided into three phases:  (1) the proof of the existence of an uncaused caused or first efficient cause, i.e., a being that acts and is a cause of other things but is not itself caused or acted upon; (2) the via remotionis, in which the first cause is divided off from all other entities by denying of it various intrinsic modes of being and composition characteristic of finite and imperfect created entities; and (3) the via affirmationis, in which positive perfections are attributed to the first cause. (This triadic structure is clearly evident, and indeed insisted upon, in Summa Contra Gentiles 1, chaps. 10-102.)

    Significantly, the thesis that the first cause (God in the Gallup poll sense) is a perfect being is the conclusion of Phase 2 rather than either an initial assumption or a deliverance of the Phase 1 argument.  Phase 2 is taken up with the so-called 'negative attributes' -- to wit, eternality, immutability, impassibility, simplicity, etc..  The predication of these attributes denies of the first efficient cause various limitations which we see to be true of material substances.  Hence, Phase 2 is meant to establish the unlimitedness and perfection of the first efficient cause and so does not take that perfection for granted; in short, Phase 2 occurs before the inception of any sort of 'perfect being theology', which asks what 'positive attributes' it is better for a perfect being to have than not to have.  So we have, first, a proof of the existence of the first efficient cause and, second, the derivation of the negative attributes, culminating in the claim that the first efficient cause ('God') is a perfect being (i.e., a being greater than which none can be thought).

    In effect, then, the via remotionis constitutes an inquiry into the difference between Creator and creature. And within St. Thomas's system a being capable of creating ex nihilo is ultimately characterized in two basic and complementary ways, one stemming from the Aristotelian tradition (Pure Actuality) and the other stemming from the Platonic tradition (Unparticipated Being). Within their respective traditions, these are limiting notions which strain our cognitive and imaginative resources but which for that very reason provide us with a powerful characterization of the ontological abyss that divides the transcendent Creator of all things from the entities He creates. In the Thomistic system, then, there is no doubt about the utter "otherness," incomprehensibility, and ineffability of the divine nature.

    At this point it becomes clear why St. Thomas thinks that Anselm's way of proceeding has all the advantages of theft over hard work.  In natural theology, he claims, we do not begin with a direct positive (or 'quidditative') concept of God -- that is, a concept which would allow us to situate the divine nature within a taxonomy of genera and species and thus to initiate a systematic inquiry into its positive properties.  Instead, we are forced to reason discursively from certain evident features of the sensible world to the existence of a first efficient cause of those features, and then to argue from the descriptive concept first efficient cause to the conclusion that the being whose existence has been proved must be radically different intrinsically from the ordinary sensible entities that we do have direct positive concepts of. The upshot of this via remotionis is that the first cause is "perfect in every way."  

    By contrast, St. Anselm, as St. Thomas sees it, treats God (i.e., most perfect possible being) as a quidditative concept, or at least as a concept that we can thoroughly grasp without much effort. So grasping the concept perfect being, which is a philosophical achievement for St. Thomas, is a relatively simple matter for St. Anselm.  That is, whereas St. Thomas's claim is that our only effective grasp of the Anselmian definition comes as a result of our having worked our way through the proof of a first efficient cause and then through the via remotionis, where we establish the first efficient cause's lack of finitude and imperfection, Anselm's alternative strategy is in effect to bypass the via remotionis and to formulate an argument that yields up, right at the beginning, God as a perfect being and hence gives us an effective grasp of the concept of God-as-a-perfect-being.  

    So on St. Thomas's view, we can effectively grasp the concept of God-as-a-perfect-being only as the result of hard philosophical work, and hence we cannot assume that any non-philosopher will be able to effectively grasp this concept simply as a result of having encountered Anselm's argument.  Notice, though, that one who does this work will have established the existence of the being in question. This may be what St. Thomas is getting at when he says:

    "Still, even granted that someone thinks that what is signified by the name ‘God’ is what was just said -- viz., that than which a greater cannot be thought -- it still does not thereby follow that he thinks that what is signified by the name exists in reality rather than just in the intellect’s apprehension. Nor can one argue that it does exist in reality, unless it is granted that there exists in reality something such that a greater cannot be thought.  But this is not granted by those who claim that God does not exist." (my emphasis)

    Besides, if we cannot immediately deduce the properties of those physical objects whose essences we do have some limited cognitive access to, then wouldn't it be astonishing if we were able to have a better grasp of God's essence?  (Interestingly, both Blessed John Duns Scotus and Leibniz claimed that Anselm's argument works only if we have a separate proof that the concept that than which a greater cannot be thought (or most perfect possible being) does not entail a contradiction.  So they seem to agree with St. Thomas at least in the claim that Anselm's argument needs to be preceded by some arduous philosophical toil.)

    In any case, it is at least an open question whether everything that St. Thomas says here and elsewhere about Anselm's argument can be put together into a coherent and compelling objection to that argument.  I must admit that I myself am still enamored with Anselm's argument.  But the above considerations at least go some way toward helping me understand why St. Thomas isn't.

    By the way, it is worth noting that St. Thomas does not mention St. Anselm or the Proslogion by name here.  Why doesn't he?  I believe that the correct explanation is something along these lines: St. Thomas disagrees rather sharply with Anselm on this particular point.  But he is reluctant to make a show of his disagreement with a respected authority whom he most often agrees with or, at least, disagrees with to a lesser degree than in the present case.  So out of respect for Anselm he declines to name him.  This isn't a useless game.  Rather, it flows from a communal conception of philosophical inquiry and the demand that one show respect for those with whom one disagrees, especially if they themselves occupy a high rung in the hierarchy of authorities.  Anselm is not, of course, a Father of the Church, but neither is he just another theologian.  So there is nothing virtuous to be gained by singling out Anselm by name and thereby exalting oneself.  (Notice that later on (q. 3, a.8) St. Thomas does not shy away from calling David of Dinant stupid for claiming that God is the matter of the universe.  Since everyone agrees that this was a pretty stupid claim, this breach of decorum is not an instance of self-exaltation.)

  • 2,2:  Even though we cannot know a priori that God exists, we can still prove the existence of God a posteriori under certain descriptions. 

    Now the ideal scientific explanation is a demonstration propter quid, where we go from a theoretical understanding of essences as causes to various effects.  However, even in natural science we have no choice but to begin with the effects and then to reason our way back to their causes.  Only in this way, often aided by the construction of a theory, are we in a position to see the effects as emanating from their now understood causes.  (Think of explanations in particle physics or in chemistry, for instance.)  This second sort of reasoning is what St. Thomas, following Aristotle, calls a demonstration quia, which works from effects back to their causes.  This, according to St. Thomas, is the only sort of argument that we can muster for God's existence.  More specifically, we use certain general features of the natural world as starting points for arguments that reason back to God, under an appropriate description, as their ultimate cause or explanation.  As already noted, however, this does not in itself give us knowledge of God's essence or attributes, except with respect to whatever it would take to explain the effect in question.  For instance, the first way of art. 3 reasons back to God, under the description 'first mover', as the ultimate cause of motion or change, while the second way reasons back to God as the 'first efficient cause' ultimately responsible for all other exercises of efficient causality.

  • 2,3:  I will not try to give a complete assessment of the arguments here, though it is important to notice that in art. 3 none of the arguments is given in its full-blown version.  This should alert us right away to the fact that the arguments are playing a different role here from their role in natural theology.  For instance, the first way appears here in a severely truncated version when one compares it to the corresponding argument in Summa Contra Gentiles 1, q. 13.  This, I believe, confirms the view that the arguments function here mainly to link our intuitive notions of an ultimate being to somewhat more sophisticated descriptions that will help us distinguish God from creatures in a philosophically robust way.  In the Summa Contra Gentiles, by contrast, St. Thomas's main purpose is to give a complete version of the argument in hopes of attaining the assent of the Gentile philosophers to the conclusion of the argument.

    Notice that each of the arguments gives us a description of God that coheres with some of the ideas people normally harbor about God:  an ultimate cause that is not itself caused, a necessary being responsible for the existence of everything else, governor of the universe, the best and most noble being, etc.  St. Thomas thinks that these are ordinary and natural conceptions of God and that, furthermore, there are good arguments supporting the existence of a being or beings who satisfy those conceptions.  All mythologies reflect at least some of these arguments in one way or another.  Admittedly, these descriptions are not much to go on, but one of St. Thomas's main metaphysical accomplishments is to show that they are indeed sufficient to ground a philosophically sophisticated articulation of God's transcendence.  This is the burden of questions 3 and 4 especially, as well as of questions 5-11 -- not to mention the via remotionis as it is found in St. Thomas's natural theology in Summa Contra Gentiles 1, chaps. 14-29.

    Notes on the first and second ways:  Notice that in these two ways, the relevant causes are ordered essentially rather than temporally.  That is, these are not arguments for a temporal beginning of the world; in fact, St. Thomas in other places makes it clear that on his view it cannot be proved through natural reason alone that the world had a beginning in time.  Rather, these arguments are meant to show that any instance of motion or change or efficient causality demands a simultaneously acting hierarchy of causes, and that this hierarchy must have an upper limit (an unmoved mover or first efficient cause) if any change is taking place or being effected at all.  The argument, in brief, is that (a) every change requires as an ultimate cause a being that effects change in other things but is not itself changed, and that (b) the operation of any cause within the universe requires the simultaneous existence and operation of a transcendent first efficient cause, which acts but is not acted upon.  The key premise in both cases is the one that says in effect that the effect we see is inexplicable unless the ordered series of causes has a first member.  The idea is that there is in the end no complete explanation for any perceptible effect (or exercise of efficient causality) unless the explanation invokes a finite series of movers (or efficient causes).  Is this plausible?  I believe that it is, despite the fact that the other side might be able to make a plausible case as well.  One indication of this is that in the sciences we keep pushing back the limits of explanation almost by nature, looking for an ultimate stopping point.  Particle physics is an interesting case in point.  This is a matter that is at least worth pondering.  I will leave it at that for now.

    One related (and disputed) question is whether or not these arguments depend on outdated Aristotelian physics.  Another way of putting the dispute is this:  Are these arguments physical arguments that depend on Aristotle's conception of the physical universe and its changes, or are they instead metaphysical arguments that are sound (and are meant to be sound) no matter what particular physical theory is correct?  I tend to think of them -- especially the second way -- in the latter manner.  This is especially true when we note that the arguments assume that the complete explanation for any change in the universe will take us beyond physical, chemical, and biological theories to ultimate questions such as:  Why are these the true theories in their relevant domains? 

    (I am not suggesting that each explanation within a given science must include a reference to a first cause or an uncaused cause, etc.  Rather, what I am suggesting is that any such explanation raises further questions -- some belonging to the natural sciences and some to metaphysics or philosophy of nature -- which our minds naturally aspire to answer.  Take, for instance, the question:  Given that such-and-such an explanation follows from the laws of nature, why should it be that our universe (or our part of the universe) follows these laws rather than other conceivable ones?  You don't have to be a theist to ask questions like this.  Hume did a pretty good job of it, even if he concluded that our minds are incapable of answering such questions and, because of this, we would be better off not asking them or at least not expecting unrevealed answers to them.  Modern-day micro-physics is an especially apt science for raising such ultimate questions.  I recommend physicist Lisa Randall's book Warped Passages as a fertile source for generating many such questions.)

    A note on the 'quantifier fallacy' of the third way:  In the third way St. Thomas seems to reason as follows:  If each entity is such that at some time it does not exist, then there is a time at which nothing exists.  Sharp commentators point out that this inference is formally invalid.  After all, it seems that one could have an everlasting succession of things that satisfied the antecedent, in which case the consequent would be false.  Now despite the acuity of the commentators, this is a pretty obvious counterexample to one way of portraying the logical form of the inference -- which right away should give us pause.  While St. Thomas is not infallible, he is pretty damned (well, blessedly) smart and not likely to commit the simple error of mistaking a formally invalid argument form for a formally valid one.  One might even begin to suspect that his argument depends crucially on the content of the antecedent and not on the validity of one natural formal representation of the inference.

    (Consider:  Any sound argument can be represented as a formally invalid inference.  Here's one:  God exists; therefore, I should be careful about how I treat other people.  That looks pretty good to me.  But let p = God exists and q = I should be careful about how I treat other people, and then the inference will be represented as p; therefore, q -- not exactly your paradigmatic formally valid inference.)

    So let's look at the third way a bit more closely.  First of all, the argument focuses at the beginning just on things that are subject to generation and corruption, and not all things that are possibly such that they exist and possibly such that they do not exist.  For instance, angels as St. Thomas conceives of them need not have existed, but they are nonetheless not subject to generation and corruption and hence are not in the relevant sense such that they have the potential to exist and the potential not to exist.  That is, they do not contain within themselves principles of generation or corruption.  This is why they are not subject to death.  So as far as the present argument is concerned, they would, so conceived, count as necessary beings.  (See the second half of the argument, which allows for the possibility that some 'necessary' beings are dependent on others.)  The same holds for the celestial bodies as Aristotle conceives of them (their matter being subject only to local motion and to no other form of change, including generation and corruption).  Interestingly, the same holds for primary matter, which is a principle of generation and corruption for sublunar material substances but is not itself subject to generation or corruption according to Aristotle.  (How could it be?  What would it come from?  What would it be corrupted into?)

    Now with this background in mind, take another look at St. Thomas's argument.  What he is arguing is that it is impossible for every being to be contingent in the sense of being subject to generation and corruption.  Presumably, this would include the matter out of which material substances are composed.  Now assume with the argument that every individual that is subject to generation and corruption is such that at some time it does not exist.  (The commentators are usually willing to concede this premise.)  And suppose that the matter out of which material substances are composed is itself subject to corruption.  Then at some time the matter out of which material substances are composed did not exist.  Since all material substances have this matter as a component, there would be no material substances after that time.  Furthermore, spiritual beings (and celestial bodies) either (a) would have their own brand of matter subject to corruption, in which case the same argument would hold for their matter and hence for themselves, or (b) would not be subject to generation or corruption and hence would not exist given the assumption that every being that actually exists is subject to generation and corruption.  Hmmm ..... it looks like maybe St. Thomas's argument is a bit stronger than it seemed at first.  In particular, while it might not in general be valid to argue that if everything is such that at some time it does not exist, then there is a time at which nothing exists, it might indeed be valid to argue that if everything that has ever existed -- and I do mean everything, including primary matter -- were subject to generation and corruption, then nothing would exist now.  So there must be at least one necessary being, i.e., being not subject to generation and corruption.  At this point, the second half of the argument comes into play, showing that the fact that a being is not subject to generation and corruption is not sufficient to explain its existence.  Some necessary beings may indeed have their esse and necessity from another.  But this regress cannot go on to infinity.  So there is a necessary being whose esse and necessity do not derive from another.  "And this everyone calls God."  Note, though, that at this point, in the absence of further arguments, it could be that primary matter is itself the ultimate necessary being.

    I do not claim to have shown that the argument is a good one.  After all, is it fair to count all of primary matter as a single being, as it were?  Perhaps.  Perhaps not. (Actually, the argument would work if it were always the case that a substance's share of primary matter ceased to exist upon the corruption of that substance.  In that case all generation would eventually cease and corruption would continue along until everything was corrupted.)  All I am saying is that this argument is a lot more interesting than the some contemporary commentators have claimed.

    A note on the fourth way:  Even though St. Thomas invokes Aristotle in this argument, the argument has a neo-Platonistic aura about it.  Also, notice that the argument as presented does not attempt to show that the maximal being is also maximally good and maximally true.  It simply assumes this identity in what "we call God."  Once again, this is an indication that the arguments are meant to tie our natural tendency to believe in a God with specific descriptions that will then be appealed to in the articulation of the difference between God and other beings.

    A note on the fifth way:  St. Thomas argues that the fact of end-oriented action in nature entails an intelligent orderer.  In this he seems to agree with all those atheists who are eager to banish every vestige of real-world teleology from the natural sciences for fear of having to admit the existence of God.  (I say 'real-world' because some might claim that even though, because of our epistemic limitations, we have no choice but to use teleological explanations, we should not conclude that there is any real teleology out there beyond our explanations.)  Is this a good argument?  I don't know.  I would have thought that an Aristotelian could just claim that the principles that give rise to teleological explanations are basic intrinsic facts about substances and that they don't require further explanation.  But what do I know?  St. Thomas believes that such principles ineluctably point back to an intelligent being. (I have a bit more to say about this matter near the end of this paper.)

Question 3:  God's Simplicity
  • General comments:  Here we see St. Thomas at his best.  We do not have a direct positive grasp of God's essence which we could use as a starting point for inquiry, as we do with ordinary physical substances.  Further, we cannot in principle attain such a grasp in this life just on the basis of our familiarity with God's effects, in the way that we reason to the existence of theoretical physical entities and components in order to explain various effects that occur in the natural world.  This is the upshot of St. Thomas's claim that we do not and cannot (in this life) know God as He is in Himself.  You might think he's just kidding, because you have a 340-page book in front of you with everything St. Thomas has to say about God in Himself.  But as we go on, I think it will become clear that he is not kidding and that our language about God is so far removed from our ordinary language about natural substances, from which our language about God takes its origin, that we barely know what we are talking about when we talk about God.  This is good, St. Thomas thinks, since it prevents us from being too comfortable, as it were, with our intellectual and affective grasp of God.  It also highlights God's goodness to us in making known to us things that we could not have known without His self-revelation and yet that are crucial for our ability to flourish in accord with our nature.  (From St. Thomas's perspective, God is not at all pleased with the rampant relativism and agnosticism concerning His nature and actions that tends to be popular in contemporary liberal democracies -- you know what I mean:  "No one is in a better position than anyone else to know what God is like or expects from us."  From St. Thomas's perspective, God has been beating down the door trying to get through to us at least since the time of Abraham.  But, then, the God of the Old and New Testaments tends to keep us from doing what we want to do in our post-lapsarian condition.  So it is more convenient for us to profess utter ignorance about what God might expect from us.)

    Because of our limitations, the best we can hope for at the beginning is to show that God utterly transcends the things with which we are familiar and which serve as the natural objects of our knowledge, viz., material substances.  St. Thomas does this negatively, by trying to show that God lacks all the limitations found in His effects.  Given the classical metaphysical framework he is operating within, he has a very precise and effective way of doing this, since scholastic metaphysics posits several types of composition which exist in one way or another "in" created things.  These include (a) composition of integral material parts, (b) composition of form and matter, (c) composition of suppositum (or subject) and nature (or essence or quiddity), (d) composition of esse and essence (or nature), (e) composition of genus and difference, (f) composition of substance and accident.  Question 3 goes through this list and, along with questions 4-11, concludes that since God is not composed in any of the relevant ways, he is wholly unlimited and thus perfect.  This is the upshot of the so-called via negativa or via remotionis.  Anything else we say about God will be under the cloud of God's utter transcendence as shown by this via remotionis.  Hence, at the conclusion of the via remotionis we have concerns about how we can possibly know God and talk about him, given how utterly different He is from anything we have direct knowledge of; these concerns are addressed in questions 12 and 13.  Only then do we go on to say something about God's intellectual and volitional operations, where this is based both on reason and revelation.  So question 3 plays an absolutely crucial role here.  (In this connection, you might want to take a look at my short piece on the so-called 'open theory of God'.)

  • 3,1:  The first thing to notice here is that St. Thomas does not think it is self-evident that God (i.e., unmoved mover or first efficient cause or first being) is not a body and thus is not composed of material parts.  This requires an argument.  (After all, lots of people have identified God with various material entities, both natural and man-made.)  Furthermore, all the objections in this question invoke Scriptural attributions of bodily parts, shape, posture, etc., to God.  St. Thomas needs to show that these attributions are metaphorical.  There are several things at work here.  One is the philosophical articulation of God's transcendence that helps us to make the distinction between metaphorical and literal attributions.  But it is important to remember that St. Thomas is not working in a vacuum here.  The Scriptures themselves make attributions of God that are seemingly in tension with one another, and long before St. Thomas came on the scene there were commentary traditions in both Judaism and Christianity that had already dealt with this problem; what's more, the Church had already spoken definitively about many of the divine attributes.  So St. Thomas does not intend to throw all that out and come up with his own new interpretation of Scripture.  What he intends to do is to provide a philosophically systematic and coherent account of God's transcendence that yields results consonant with the teaching of the Church and with the preponderance of the Rabbinic and Patristic interpretations of passages on which Church teaching allows some degree of interpretative leeway.

    Note that the three arguments all tease out the implications of names of God established in question 2, viz., 'unmoved mover' (not subject to being moved), 'first being' (no admixture of passive potentiality), 'most noble being'.  The replies to the objections all explicate the literal meaning that underlies the metaphorical attributions of materiality to God.

    One interesting sidelight here is ad 2, where St. Thomas explains that it is because of man's reason and intellect -- and not because of his body -- that we are said to be made in God's image.  Without denying the centrality of reason and intellect, Pope John Paul II, in his 'theology of the body', has argued that the complementary physical differences between men and women are also wrought in God's image in the sense in which this notion is invoked in Genesis.  Intriguing, eh?

  • 3,2:  We next move on to composition of form and matter, had by all material substances on an Aristotelian conception of them.  Here two of the objections come from Scripture, one with an attribution of a soul to God and the other with the attributions of passions, e.g., anger, which on an Aristotelian view essentially involve a bodily change.  The last objection is a metaphysical one, viz., that God is an individual and that the principle of individuation is matter.

    St. Thomas's first argument is once again are traceable to the descriptions of God as 'Pure Actuality'.  Given that God is pure actuality, He has no passive potency; but anything composed of form and matter can be acted upon and hence has passive potency.  The third argument is that form is the principle of acting in an agent and that since God is a first agent (an agent who is not acted upon), He must be pure form without matter.

    The argument I want to focus on, however, is the second one, since it introduces a Platonic distinction that will feature prominently in St. Thomas's account of God.  This is the distinction between being such-and-such through one's essence and being such-and-such by participation.  In this instance, the distinction is deployed to distinguish God, who is good through His essence, from material substances, which are good by participation precisely because their matter participates in form.  The conclusion is that God must be form without matter.

    Let's look at the distinction a bit more closely.  To be such-and-such through one's essence implies not only that one is such-and-such by nature but also that one has, so to speak, the fullness of the relevant characteristic.  This becomes clear when St. Thomas applies the distinction to being itself.  There is a sense in which everything is essentially a being -- for it cannot exist without being a being.  However, only God is Subsistent Esse through His essence, since only God is an ultimately necessary being and only God possesses the fullness of being.

    A last word about ad 3.  Matter is a principle of individuation, according to St. Thomas, only in the case of forms that "can be received in matter."  However, God and other spiritual substances are such that they are subsistent forms incapable of being received in matter.  Therefore, they are individuals in themselves.

  • 3,3:  In this article we find another distinction that can be used to separate God (and other spiritual substances) off from substances composed of form and matter, viz., the distinction between the nature of a thing and the subject or suppositum which has that nature.  For instance, we can say 'Socrates has humanity' or 'Socrates has a human nature' as a philosophically sophisticated version of 'Socrates is a man'.  And we can say that Socrates's humanity exists 'in' him.  So here is another form of composition.  (Note that from this point on, the objections are taken no longer from Scripture but from various philosophical standpoints.  In each case, St. Thomas tries to show either that the philosophical objection is wrongheaded to begin with or that it needs to be modified in order to extend the philosophical theories in question to the case of God.)

    On the surface, it seems that we can attribute this form of composition to God.  For just as we say 'Humanity exists in Socrates', so too we can say 'Divinity exists in God'.  Moreover, given that God is a cause of other things and that causes effect what is similar to themselves, it seems that God, like we ourselves, is such that in Him there is a composition of suppositum and nature (or essence).

    St. Thomas replies by explaining another difference between material substances and spiritual substances, which are subsistent forms.  In the former, the nature includes just that which is common to all the members of the species and is captured by the real definition of the species.  But in addition, each individual of the species has its own set of material accidental determinations that fall outside the definition of the species.  These material accidental determinations are lacking in the case of spiritual substances, and so in such substances there is no composition of suppositum and nature.  The subsistent substance just is its own nature.  (Lurking in the background is St. Thomas's (disputed) claim that each angel constitutes his own species.)  A fortiori, this holds in the case of God as well.  So God is not distinct from His divinity or from the other essential determinations, e.g., life, that count as part of the nature in the case of material things.  (A different story has to be told about those determinations that are accidents in our case, e.g., wisdom and power.)

    We should pay special attention to ad 1.  Here St. Thomas enunciates a constant theme of his teaching on God:  "We ourselves are unable to talk about simple entities except in the way we talk about the composite entities from which we take our cognition.  And so, when speaking of God, we use concrete names (e.g., 'living', 'wise') to signify His subsistence (since by our lights it is only composites that subsist), and we use abstract names (e.g., 'life', 'wisdom') to signify His simplicity.  So the fact that divinity, life, and other things of this sort are said to be 'in' God should be traced back to a duality (diversitas) that occurs in our intellect’s grasp of the thing and not to any duality within the thing itself."  This defectiveness of language is something we cannot correct except by pairing ordinary ways of speaking ('God is living') with ways of speaking that from our ordinary perspective are deviant ('God is His life').

  • 3,4:  We next come to a form of composition which is characteristic of all created substances, including created spiritual substances, and that distinguishes every creature from God.  This is composition of esse and essence (or nature).  Here what counts as the 'essence' is the whole substance or suppositum with all its essential determinations.  This type of composition is lacked only by a being that (a) does not depend on another for its esse or existence and that (b) is not such that there need not have been any such thing as it.  Both of the objections take esse in a minimalist sense as what is common to everything and expressed by the English term 'exists', i.e., that in virtue of which a thing is something rather than nothing.  (This is the second and 'propositional sense' of esse pointed out in ad 1.)  This is pretty paltry for the divine essence, which presumably includes all perfections, and so the conclusion in both cases is that God's essence must be something more than His esse.

    But as St. Thomas uses it here, esse in any given case is such-esse.  For instance, horse-esse differs from pig-esse.  This is the upshot of the second argument.  A thing's esse is just the actuality of its essential perfections.  In God this esse is not received, since there is no potentiality to be actualized.  Instead, there is just pure actuality.

    This goes along with the first argument:  Anything that has composition of esse and essence must be such that its esse is caused by another; but this is incompatible with God's status as the First Efficient Cause.

    The third argument is of the Platonistic type introduced above.  God is not a being by participation that has some proper subset of the set of all perfections.   (Note that even though angels are not subject to generation and corruption, they are nonetheless beings by participation and receive their esse from another.)   Rather, He is a being through His essence, since He is the first being.  This entails, as becomes clear in ad 2, that His esse is unlimited (i.e., unparticipated) and hence not knowable by us in this life.

    As we go on, it should be getting clearer and clearer that God is utterly transcendent.  We certainly can't imagine what it is to be God, and we can't really conceive it, either.  All we can say is:  well, He's not like trees, bugs, human beings, angels, etc.  We need to say strange things even in order to express what little we know of Him.

  • 3,5:  The next sort of composition is the composition of genus and difference.  Even though this is, according to St. Thomas (if not Duns Scotus), a logical rather than physical composition, it nonetheless reflects the physical components (form/matter) of the substance in question.  And in every case in which the genus/difference distinction applies the potentiality/actuality distinction applies as well.  From this it follows straightforwardly that there is no such composition in God.

    In denying that God is in a genus, either as a species or by reduction, St. Thomas is in effect denying that there any limitations to God's perfection.  For every genus is limited in a way that is incompatible with God's role as the principle of all esse.  Indeed, we might think of a genus or species as the partitioning of the set of all perfections in a way appropriate to the genus or species in question.  For instance, dog-esse, which is definitive of the nature of dogs, specifies a determinate proper subset of the set of all perfections.

    Note that in ad 1 St. Thomas denies that God can be thought of as being contained in the category (i.e., most general genus) of substance.  Later in the course we will see instances where it is nonetheless permissible to use the language of substance when talking about God.

  • 3,6:  The next, and last, sort of composition is the composition of substance and accident.  In each case the accident actualizes some passive potentiality on the part of the substance.  Hence, it follows straightforwardly that God has no accidents.  Any perfections that God has He has by essence and not by virtue of any reality that brings to perfection was is present only potentially in the divine substance.  Of course, our language is not adapted to such a being, since we think of accidents as realities in their own right (or, at least, we should so think of them in general).  And so we have to say weird things about God -- e.g., that God is not only wise but Wisdom itself -- in order to indicate that God's wisdom, unlike ours, is not an accident and, in this case at least, not an accident that can come and go.  More on this below when we get to question 13.

  • 3,7:  St. Thomas's first argument simply summarizes the first six articles.  In effect, it says that (a) a simple being has no composition, that (b) these are the six types of composition that things can have, that (c) God has none of them, and that therefore (d) God is absolutely simple.  As an absolutely simple being, He is wholly other than every other being.  When we add in a. 8 that, unlike points, lines, surfaces and primary matter, God is a simple being who does not enter into the composition of anything else, we see that God is utterly unlike any object of our actual or possible (in this life) experience.  An aura of mystery surrounds Him.  "Who is like unto Him?"

    The remaining arguments all invoke the descriptions of God established in question 2.  A first being cannot be posterior to its components; a first efficient cause cannot itself have a cause; a being that is pure actuality cannot have any potentiality.

  • 3,8:  If God is in some sense the esse of all things, then it might seem that He must enter into composition with other things.  Furthermore, there seems to be no easy way to distinguish God from primary matter, which enters into the composition of all material substances.  For both of them are simple in themselves.

    Notice that once again St. Thomas finds it necessary to argue for a conclusion that those of us brought up in the tradition of Judaeo-Christian revelation might find obvious.  This is because he really is starting from ordinary people's vague conceptions of God.  In fact, in this article he tries to refute two separate types of pantheism, one of which identifies God with the World-Soul and the other of which "stupidly" identifies Him with matter.

    He first points out that a (transeunt) efficient cause effects something distinct from itself.  So given that God is the first efficient cause of the world, it follows that He is distinct from the world.  What's more, any matter or form that enters into composition with another cannot itself be an agent, even it might be a principle of acting; rather, it is the composite that it is "primarily and per se" an agent.  But God is primarily and per se an agent.

    Notice how in ad 2 St. Thomas accommodates the citation to St. Augustine in obj. 2.  What he does -- and this is his standard procedure -- is to find a sense in which what Augustine says is true but does not damage the position St. Thomas wishes to defend.  In this case, for instance, he points out that the Word of God, i.e., the Son of God eternally begotten by the Father, is a form in the sense of being an exemplar of all created things.  This will become clearer below, given St. Thomas's claim that all created things in some way imitate God's being and nature.  But the main point I am making here is about his treatment of Augustine.  Some claim that the Summa Theologiae is replete with positions that would be rejected by Augustine and that, in general, St. Thomas replaces the Platonizing tendencies of Augustine with a type of Aristotelianism.  There may be some truth to this claim, but it is often made by people who fail to appreciate just how much Platonism there is in St. Thomas's system.  The idea that there is a fundamental opposition between St. Thomas and St. Augustine is, I believe, highly exaggerated, though it cannot be denied that while Augustine develops a more 'interior' approach to God in many of his writings, St. Thomas's way is to proceed by way of our experience of the natural world.  In general, St. Thomas is more impressed by the world of nature and the natural sciences.  Still, one should be suspicious of the idea that there is a fundamental opposition -- as opposed to a sort of complementarity -- between Augustine and Aquinas.  (It's worth asking just who it is who would have something to gain by exaggerating the differences between Augustine and Aquinas ..... hmm, maybe Luther or Calvin, say?  Those of us who celebrate big feast days on both January 28 and August 28 should not be taken in by this.  Enough said.)



Question 4:  God's Perfection
  • General Comments:  From the discussion of simplicity, St. Thomas goes on to a discussion of perfection and goodness.  God's absolute simplicity is a necessary and sufficient condition for God's perfection, since the various types of composition represent all the sources of finitude and imperfection.  So this question is a natural sequel to the question on divine simplicity.  What's more, St. Thomas takes this occasion to make a first stab at the question of how God's perfections are related to the perfections of creatures.

  • 4,1:  Those ancients who limited themselves to thinking just of the first material principle, viz., matter, did not think it to be perfect.  But St. Thomas points out that it has already been established that God is a first efficient principle and not a first material principle.  And such a principle must be perfect, since perfection varies according to degree of actuality, and God is maximally actual.

    In ad 3 St. Thomas makes this clearer by pointing out that esse is the principle of actuality.  We must not think of a created substance as somehow constituted prior to receiving esse.  Rather, everything that it is (including all its parts and components) is conferred with God's conferral of esse.  This must be true if everything is created by God ex nihilo, i.e., depends immediately on God for its existence and the existence of all its parts and components.  In the case of creation, we can think of a created thing as having a part of -- or participating in -- esse-as-such, the plenitude of all being and perfection.  God, by contrast, just is unpartitioned esse and hence has all perfection.

  • 4,2-3:  St. Thomas wants to claim that all the perfections of things exist in God.  But the objections to this claim seem insurmountable.  First of all, some of the perfections of creatures (e.g., differences which constitute the species within a given species) are opposed to one another.  What's more, some of the perfections of things (e.g., their quantitative accidents) are incompatible with God's simplicity and His immateriality.  So how to respond?

    St. Thomas first argues from the general thesis that effects must in some way or other be similar to their causes.  Why hold this?  Well, it is obvious in the case of univocal causes, which share the same nature with their effects.  But what of equivocal causes, i.e., causes that are in some sense superior to their effects and that differ from their effects in species?  Here, St. Thomas says, the effects preexist virtually in their causes in a more eminent way.  Is this any more than simply forcing the principle to be true?  Take, for instance, the case of intelligent agents.  I call your paper 'intelligent' because you used your intelligence well in writing it and because it is a sign of your intelligence.  So your paper is similar to you in some relevant respect, even though you are an equivocal or non-univocal cause of it.  In the same way, St. Thomas insists, even non-intelligent equivocal agents must, by virtue of producing an effect, have had that effect in their power as that which they were ordered to.  (Qualifications are necessary here, since agents sometimes fail to bring about all the perfection they are ordered to.)  And, as we have already seen, St. Thomas traces the operation of non-intelligent causes to the operation of God as the intelligent orderer of natural operations.

    Now every created thing stands to God in a way similar to that in which your paper stands to you.   So by virtue of being capable of producing every possible created perfection, God possesses such perfections "in a more eminent mode" than He would if He were just their subject and not their efficient cause.  Conversely, creatures are similar to God in roughly the way that an image of a man is similar to that man -- though even here the best we can say is that "a creature is said to be similar to God not because they share in a form according to the same nature of genus or species, but only because of an analogy, viz., insofar as God is a being through His essence and the others are beings through participation" (art. 3, ad 3).

    However, there is another thing at stake here, and it has to do with a danger posed by the strong theory of divine transcendence that St. Thomas articulates.  The danger is that God will be so remote from us that all divine names become equally appropriate or inappropriate.  This deteriorates into a type of agnosticism that threatens any order in the divine names.  For instance, if all we meant by 'God is good' is that God is a cause of good, then we would be completely in the dark about what God is like in Himself -- even to the point of wondering whether our use of the term 'good' in ordinary circumstances has anything at all to do with God's goodness.  In question 6 St. Thomas will argue that God is good in Himself through His essence and hence the standard of all good things.  So here, when he argues that God has every perfection, he is in part aiming to show that there is a similarity between created perfections, including created goodness in general, and God's perfection.  This will become clearer as we go on, and especially in question 13 on the divine names.  However, it is worth noting at once that it is precisely the Platonic language of participation that gives us a handle on God's intrinsic perfection.  God is not just the efficient cause of all being and all goodness but he exists and is good through His essence, whereas we exist and are good by participation.



Question 5:  The Good in General
  • General Comments:  It might seem strange for St. Thomas to discuss goodness here, since goodness seems to be the sort of 'positive' attribute one would expect to find in the via affirmationis rather than here in the midst of the via remotionis.  However, the connection was made in the introductions to question 3 and question 4 (which, unfortunately, you will not find on the New Advent website -- bad move, not printing the introductions, since they are crucial to understanding the structure of the Summa).   In those introductions St. Thomas says tersely:

    "So, first of all, we will inquire into His simplicity, by which composition is excluded from Him (question 3).  And because among corporeal things the simple ones are imperfect and mere parts, we will inquire, second, into His perfection (questions 4-6) .....".  (Introduction to question 3)

    "Now that we have examined God’s simplicity, we must consider the perfection of God Himself.  And since each thing is called good to the extent that it is perfect, we must first talk about God’s perfection and then about His goodness ....."  (Introduction to question 4)

    So the explanation is fairly straightforward:  First, he must show the connection between God's simplicity and His perfection; second, the discussion of perfection essentially involves the notion of goodness.  Curiously, though, in the Summa Contra Gentiles goodness is the first divine attribute discussed in the via affirmationis. Perhaps it's important to remember that the Summa Contra Gentiles has natural theology as its central task, and so a strict order is mandatory, whereas the project of the Summa Theologiae gives St. Thomas a bit more freedom about how to order his discussion of God's nature.  He keeps the same basic structure, since he still needs to make relevant points about God's transcendence and perfection in order to come to a deeper understanding of Sacred Scripture.  But in this instance, the discussion of divine perfection, which could have been taken as simply the culmination of the via remotionis -- i.e., divine perfection = complete absence of creature-like limitations and imperfections -- is instead used to introduce the positive notion of goodness in order to amplify the connotations of perfection.

  • 5, 1-3:  The first three articles concern the relation between being and good:

    The first article argues that being and good are "the same in reality" but "different in concept."  This means, first, that every being is good and whatever is good is a being.  You can't have the one without the other.  (From this it follows immediately that nothing is wholly evil, i.e., unqualifiedly evil or evil in every respect.)  The conceptual difference is that good adds to being the notion of desirability.  In ad 1, St. Thomas teases out this difference by pointing out that something has being absolutely speaking simply by virtue of being something rather than nothing or by virtue of being actual rather than merely potential, whereas something is good absolutely speaking only by virtue of being perfect in its kind.  In technical language, something has being in an unqualified way in virtue of its first act or first (i.e., substantival) esse, whereas it is good in an unqualified way only in virtue of its last or ultimate act (i.e., its perfection).  Notice that there is a qualified sense in which a substance with goodness in an unqualified sense has more being or actuality than one which lacks goodness in an unqualified sense.  It is in this sense that we can characterize God as the "fullness of being."

    The second article is in a way an answer to the Platonistic (actually, Plotinistic) claim that goodness is prior to being.  (Remember Plotinus's characterization of God.) First of all, St. Thomas makes the plausible claim that the being or nature of a thing is the first thing that our minds grasp with respect to it, and it is this being or nature that "is signified by the spoken term."  (Admittedly, good is prior in the order of causality, since the end is the "cause of causes," i.e., that in virtue of which the other causes either act (efficient cause) or are acted upon (material cause) or are effected (formal cause) -- but that is a different matter.)  Something that is absolute non-being cannot be good, even though what is a being in potentiality can be desired and hence can be good "not by predication but by causality."  (I want a table, and this desire leads me to do what will lead to my having a table, even if the table does not yet exist in actuality.)  

    Finally, non-being can sometimes be a good, but only incidentally (per accidens).  That is, non-being is not intended in itself and for its own sake, but only for the sake of gaining some good or removing some evil.

    The third article argues that every being is good.  Objections 3 and 4 are the interesting ones here.  Primary matter is being in potentiality and hence good only in potentiality, but it is good at least in this sense.  Mathematical entities, according to St. Thomas, do not exist in their own right but instead are separate from other things only conceptually, i.e., "insofar as they are abstracted from motion and matter and thus abstracted from the notion of an end."

  • 5,4:  Turning from the relation between being and good, St. Thomas next addresses the question of the causal role of good.  The objections argue that good has the character of a formal cause (because of its connection with beautiful) or of an efficient cause (because of good's tendency to diffuse itself and also because of the role it plays in efficient causality).

    First of all, it comes as no surprise that St. Thomas gives a central role to the final cause, even among non-intelligent agents.  After all, this notion is intimately connected with the natures, tendencies and dispositions of all agents, including natural agents.  This is just Aristotelianism of the sort articulated in Physics 2.  So the good-to-be-realized is the first thing in the order of causing.  That is, the good sets in motion the action of the efficient cause.  By the same token, the good-to-be-realized is the last thing in the order of being caused or being realized.
The reply to the first objection is one of the main sources for St. Thomas's way of drawing the distinction between good and beautiful.  In brief, he associates good primarily with affection and beautiful primarily with cognition.


Question 6:  God's Goodness



Question 7:  God's Infinity

Question 8:  God's Existence in Things

Question 9:  God's Immutability

Question 10:  God's Eternity

Question 11:  God's Oneness


Question 12:  How We Know God
  • General Comments:  This question is far-ranging, beginning with the cognition of God had by the blessed in heaven through the light of glory (a. 1-10) and proceeding to the cognition of God that is possible for us in this life through both grace and natural reason (a. 11-13).  The first few questions highlight the contrast between the beatific vision of God and both (a) ordinary human knowledge that originates in the senses and (b) natural angelic knowledge.  In this way, the questions provide us with an overview of St. Thomas's account of sensory and intellective cognition.

  • 12,1:  As for the possibility of a created intellect's seeing God's essence, St. Thomas is adamant both that (a) God's essence is in itself the most intelligible object, since each thing is knowable to the extent that it is actual and God is pure actuality, and that (b) a created intellect, whether human or angelic is, under the proper conditions, capable of seeing God.  The latter he simply takes to be an article of the Faith, though one that is undergirded by our natural desire for fulfillment and our natural desire to know the first cause of things.

  • 12, 2-11:  Over the next ten articles, which have to be read both forwards and backwards (you know what I mean!), we get a summary of St. Thomas's view of the natural cognition had by men and angels and an account of what must be added to the human and angelic intellects in order for them to see God "face-to-face" in the beatific vision.  Articles 2-6 concern our cognitive power, its enhancement, and its mode of union with God when we see Him face to face; arts. 7-11 deal with exactly what we know when we see God face to face.  All intellection on the part of an intelligent creature involves the union of known and knower or, more specifically, the presence, in some mode, of the known in the knower.  

    Every instance of cognition requires both (a) a cognitive power sufficient to grasp the object in at least some way and (b) the union of the cognizer via the cognitive power with the object cognized.  For instance, in the case of human cognition, a material object is united with the cognitive powers not with its very own esse (hmm, that rock won't fit in my eye), but rather by having a "likeness" of it "impressed" on them, in a way analogous to that in which form can be thought of as being "impressed" on matter in the things themselves.  In the case of sensation, it is the material entities themselves that are causes of the alterations of the sensory organs that constitute the sensory act.  That is, the act is just the sensory power's being "formed" or "shaped" in the way characteristic of an act of sensing this object, e.g., a sensing of red or "red-sensing."  (St. Thomas thinks that the per se objects of the sensory powers are colors, sounds, smells, sounds and "feels," whereas their per accidens (but non-inferential) objects are things like substances as such, causes as such, etc.)   In the case of the intellective power, the intellect is both active and passive.  It is able to take the data delivered by the senses and to fashion from it a mode of cognition that is general or universal and not tied to the here and now.  In technical terms, the intellect as active (active or agent intellect) "forms" or "shapes" the intellect as passive (passive or possible intellect) in a way characteristic of an act of understanding the object in question.  (The passive intellect is like primary matter waiting to be fashioned by an agent, viz., the agent intellect.)  Hence, in both cases the union of cognizer and what is cognized is effected by a formal configuration of the cognitive power.  Since these formal determinations are distinct from God, we can call them "created formal determinations" or "created likenesses."  So when we have sensory or intellective cognition of a material substance, it is not the case that the very substance with its own natural esse or of any of its accidents with their own natural esse comes to exist in our senses or intellect.  That is impossible.  Rather, the union is accomplished by the impression of a likeness (Latin species) on the cognitive power (which is receptive in the manner of matter), and it is by means of such a likeness that we are in cognitive contact -- more specifically, cognitive union -- with the object.

    Note that a different story has to be told about our cognition of non-material objects -- including our own souls, given St. Thomas's Aristotelian argument that intellection (unlike sensation) is not in itself the operation of a material power, though it presupposes the operation of those material powers that are the senses.  In particular, there cannot be any "likeness" of such things that exactly parallels the likenesses of material objects.   This is one reason why we have to proceed by way of negation in our knowledge of God and angels.  (In the case of our own soul, we at least have a grasp of our own intellective and sensory operations insofar as they are directed toward material substances.)

    As we learn in a. 3, this holds in spades for God.  In order for us to be united to God in a way sufficient for the beatific vision, God must unite Himself to our minds with His very own esse in order for us to know Him directly.  What exactly does this mean?  First skip ahead and take a look at q. 14. a, 2, which describes God's knowledge of Himself.  He must be, so to speak, united to Himself as an intelligible object.  But since God is immaterial, He can be literally united to Himself with His own esse.  As St. Thomas puts it, He is His own intelligible species, so that in God the divine essence and act of understanding is the same as the intelligible species.  In the beatific vision, God is likewise the mind's intelligible species.  We participate in God's very knowledge of Himself!

    Let's take this one step at a time.  According to the doctrine of grace, grace is an enhancement or elevation of our very nature (its subject, says St. Thomas, is the essence of the soul and not just one of its powers) which even now gives us a participation in the intimate Trinitarian life of God in the ways specified by the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity.  If even now we have through the virtue of faith some share in God's knowledge of Himself and of the created world, then the beatific vision is the completion of what is begun with the "light of faith."

    However, this in itself is not sufficient, since our cognitive faculties are not naturally capable of being united to God in this way.  (The same holds for the cognitive faculties of angels as well.)  This is made clear in a. 4 and again in a. 11.  In our case, the reason is that our natural mode of cognition limits us to entities that have their esse in matter.  And neither our cognitive powers, nor those of an angel, have natural cognition of subsistent esse, i.e., of God.  As far as God is concerned, our natural cognitive powers are limited to knowing Him through His effects.  (In our case, we can occupy a middle status in this life through grace, which gives us the light of faith (see below).)  But they are also characterized by St. Thomas as a participation in the light of the divine intellect.  What we need in order to see God is a better light, the light not of reason or even of grace, but the "light of glory."  This makes us godlike, because God is the ultimate source and agent of our intellectual activity and in the beatific vision He is known through His essence as well.  Hence, in knowing God through His essence we have sublime and godlike knowledge of God and see all things in our vision of Him.

    What's more, in a. 6 St. Thomas asserts that to the extent that someone loves God more, to that extent one has a greater desire to see God and hence sees Him more perfectly.  "More perfectly" here has to do not with the object (which is there for all the blessed to see), but seeing the object with more clarity and depth and insight.  So each of the blessed sees God's essence with a depth that corresponds to his or her love for God.  Think of how in the present life deeper love of a person produces more insight into that person.

    As for this life, our natural knowledge of God is limited to what we can know by the ways of negation, preeminence, and causality.  In short, we can establish that God is like nothing else that we have experience of, but is instead an infinite being who stands outside of the order of change and time but is nonetheless the immediate source of being for whatever exists at any time and place.  Grace gives us more insight by revealing to us certain mysteries about God's inner life and plan for our salvation, even while giving us a first beginning of participation in God's life.


Question 13:  The Names of God

  • General comments:  In certain respects this question brings together everything that has preceded it and relates it to our characteristically human manner of making affirmations.  There are some distinctions made by St. Thomas that would be good to get out on the table before we go through the articles.

    • (Categorematic) spoken term vs. concept (or conception)

      A categorematic term is one that signifies a substance or an accident (including actions).  In addition, language contains syncategorematic terms such as prepositions, conjunctions, quantifiers, propositional operators, etc., which enable us to make our talk about things more exact and subtle.

      According to St. Thomas, "spoken words are signs of conceptions and conceptions are likenesses of things."  It is important to understand this distinction correctly.  On St. Thomas's view, an act of understanding consists in the intellect (as passive) being formed or configured or "shaped" according to a likeness of the object of cognition.  The resulting actuality or act -- that is, the thus-and-thus configured intellect -- is a conception and constitutes our understanding of that object, which in the first instance is a material substance along with its accidents.  Spoken words are signs of such conceptions or understandings in the sense that they express them in a way that can be used to communicate with others. 

      It is important, by the way, to understand that the "likeness" that St. Thomas talks about here is not itself the first object of the act of understanding; rather, it is by means of this likeness that the intellect is configured in, say, the "aardvark-way", and it is this configuring that is an act of understanding what an aardvark is.  This is why St. Thomas says that the likeness (technically, the "intelligible species") is not that which is understood but that by which material substances, in this case aardvarks, are understood.  So just as the form of aardvarkiness is that by which this matter is organized into an aardvark, so the likeness of an aardvark is that by which the mind is, as it were, configured in the "aardvark" mode, which is just what the relevant act of understanding is.  And different conceptions (or concepts, which are habits engendered by conceptions) are thus configurations that differ intrinsically from one another (like the spoken words that express) and thus have different objects.

      Later, in the questions on the Trinity, St. Thomas will talk about the mental speaking which he calls the "Word."  This speaking, like human speaking, presupposes the act of understanding and expresses it mentally, just as a spoken word expresses it audibly.  This distinction helps us to understand how it is that the while God's nature just is the divine act of understanding and hence is shared by all three of the divine persons, the generation of the divine Word yields the distinction between the Father (the speaker) and the Son (Word that is spoken or expressed).)

    • Concrete term vs. (corresponding) abstract term:  Categorematic terms come in pairs -- e.g., 'man'/'humanity', 'wise'/'wisdom', 'powerful'/'powerfulness', -- where (a) the concrete term can be predicated of a particular substance and (b) the corresponding abstract term directly signifies or names the form by virtue of which the concrete term is predicable of the substance.  The reason why St. Thomas says that the concrete terms connote composition is that in our experience a concrete term F connotes something having F-ness, so that there is a composition of subject (or suppositum) and form, whether that form is a substantival form or an accidental form.  The form F-ness, by contrast, does not involve composition in itself; it is just that by which a composite is F.

    • That because of which a term is imposed to signify vs. that which the term signifies:  The former has to do with the origin and etymology of the term, whereas the latter involves the form that is in fact signified by the term, regardless of its origin.

    • That which a term signifies vs. the term's mode of signification:  On St. Thomas's view a term always signifies a form.  A concrete term signifies a form and is predicable of the subject of that form, whereas the corresponding abstract term signifies the form itself.  However, the concrete term signifies in a mode that implies a subsistent subject having a form, and so a concrete term's mode of signifying implies both subsistence and composition.  We saw above that an abstract term, by contrast, signifies just the formal component by itself and hence does not imply composition in itself; however, neither does it imply subsistence, since all the forms we naturally know are such that they exist in some distinct subsistent subject.  This is why in the case of God we predicate both terms of the divine nature -- so that, in effect, the concrete term's mode of signifying indicates God's subsistence but is in tension with His simplicity, whereas the abstract term indicates God's simplicity but is in tension with His subsistence.  We must use both sorts of terms, because the one in effect cancels out the mistaken implications of the other.  And given the nature of our cognitive faculties and our language, we cannot wholly transcend the limitations built into our cognition and linguistic practice.  (See below in 13,1.)

      Also, St. Thomas distinguishes (a) terms that are such that they signify not only a perfection but a material mode of possessing that perfection from (b) terms that are such that they signify a perfection but do not directly signify a material mode of possessing it.  (The latter have a 'material' mode of signification, but this mode is not part of what they signify when they are used to signify the perfection in question.)  So, for instance, 'lion' and 'powerful' can both be used to signify power.  But 'God (or Odysseus, for that matter) is a lion' is a metaphorical predication, whereas 'God [or Odysseus] is powerful' is a literal predication.
 Now we are ready to turn to the articles themselves.
  • 13,1:  Here St. Thomas asserts that we can make true and proper (i.e., non-metaphorical) affirmative statements about God, but acknowledges that our language is not altogether satisfactory because of the dissonance between God's nature on the one hand and the mode of signifying had by our "perfection" terms on the other.  Note throughout that St. Thomas takes ordinary language to be our only language, and so the limitations of ordinary language are limitations built right into the conceptions that spoken and written terms express.  This is inescapable for us -- sounds a bit like Wittgenstein, eh?  (I would classify Scotus, by contrast, as an "ideal language philosopher" at least in this sense:  he believes that we can do better than ordinary language by fashioning a technical language that is more precise than ordinary language.  It seems to me that this is the root of the famous dispute between Thomists and Scotists about univocity and analogy in our language about God.)
  • 13,2:  St. Thomas argues energetically against the view that none of our terms signifies God's essence or substance (i.e., that they signify Him substantivally), but that instead all of them signify either (a) the negation of some creaturely attribute of Him or (b) the creature's relation to Him as its first cause.   If all of our terms were like this, says St. Thomas, then all of our terms would be equally appropriate or equally inappropriate in the case of God.  But this would amount to a complete agnosticism about God's nature.  For instance, if the claim is that we call God good only because He is a cause of goodness in created things, then it would be just as appropriate to call Him a body, given that He is the cause of corporeality.  Likewise, if we call Him living only in order to deny that He is like inanimate things, then it is just as appropriate to call Him a body in order to deny that He is like primary matter.  St. Thomas's own view is crystal clear:  "When God is said to be good, the meaning is not that God is a cause of goodness or that God is not evil; rather, the meaning is that what we call goodness in creatures preexists in God and does so in some higher mode.  Hence, from this it follows not that 'good' belongs to God insofar as He causes goodness, but rather, just the opposite, that because God is good, He diffuses His goodness to things."  (By the way, some contest St. Thomas's attribution of the opposed view to "Rabbi Moses," i.e., Moses Maimonides.  You'll have to take a course on Maimonides to settle that issue.  However, even if Rabbi Moses did not hold this view, it's still a view that keeps popping up in Christian as well as Jewish thought, often in reaction to anthropomorphic views of God that underplay His transcendence.)

    So even though creatures and creaturely perfections are that because of which the divine names are imposed to signify, it does not follow that these names are limited to signifying just the perfections of creatures (see ad 2).  That is, pure perfection terms such as 'living,' 'wise,' 'good', etc. are predicated of God in His nature or substance and are not said of Him simply because He is the cause of creaturely perfections or related to creatures in some other way.  In other words, perfection-terms as predicated of God say something true about God in himself.

  • 13,3:  Here St. Thomas makes explicit something he's been assuming all along, viz., that not all of our attributions to God are metaphorical.  Here he makes use of the distinction between what is signified and the mode of signifying.  In the case of metaphorical attributions what is signified by the term is inextricably tied up with a participation in matter, whereas this is not the case with proper attributions.  Those attributions, when they involve concrete terms signifying pure perfections, do imply materiality in their mode of signifying and in that because of which they were imposed to signify, but not in what they signify.

  • 13,4:  Does God's simplicity make it the case that all the terms properly predicated of Him are synonyms?  Since He is simple, and since we say of Him, e.g., that He is wise (or that He is wisdom) and that He is good (or that He is goodness), doesn't it follow that since He is both His wisdom and His goodness, 'wisdom' and 'goodness' as attributed to God are synonyms?

    No, says St. Thomas.  Non-synonomy is clear, St. Thomas asserts, in the case of names that deny something of God.  All of them (e.g., 'incorporeality', 'timelessness', 'infinity') obviously signify something distinctive, and each denies a different type of finitude of God.  But what about the names of the 'positive' perfections?  St. Thomas reminds us here that each of these names is associated with a distinctive concept or conception.  This is sufficient to make the names non-synonymous.  "For the concept signified by the name is the intellect's conception of the reality signified by the name.  But since our intellect knows God from creatures, in order to understand God it forms concepts proportioned to the perfections that proceed from God to creatures.  These perfections preexist in God in a simple and unified way, whereas they are received in creatures in a fragmented and diversified way.  Therefore, corresponding to the diverse perfections of creatures there is a simple unified principle, represented in various and multiple ways by the diverse perfections of the creatures; and in the very same way, corresponding to the various and multiple concepts of our intellect there is a unified and altogether simple being that is imperfectly understood by means of conceptions of the sort in question.  So even though the names attributed to God signify a single reality, they are nonetheless not synonyms because they signify that reality under many and diverse concepts."

  • 13,5-6:  Given what has gone before, we are prepared for St. Thomas's claim that the names predicated of God are predicated neither univocally nor equivocally of God and creatures.  For the reality signified by these names belongs to God, but not in the mode signified by the names, since in God all of the perfections are found as a simple unified subsistent substance.  We have to, as it were, predicate the perfections of God under the cloud of God's simplicity and transcedence, and we realize that we are stretching our language to the hilt when we try to attribute perfections to God.  In calling this analogous predication, St. Thomas uses Aristotle's paradigm of a term that is associated with different but related concepts.  Just as medicine is called 'healthy' by reference to the health which exists in the first instance in an animal and because of which an animal is called 'healthy' in the primary sense -- and this by virtue of the fact that the medicine is a cause of health -- so too creatures are called, say, 'wise' by reference to the wisdom which exists in the first instance in God through His essence and because of which God is called 'wise' in the primary sense -- and this by virtue of the fact that created wisdom is a participation in the wisdom that exists in God through His essence in a more eminent way than wisdom exists in creatures.  

    In a. 6 St. Thomas fills in this picture in a way that answers a problem that occurs when we try to make precise the how the example of 'healthy' as predicated of an animal, of medicine, of blood, of urine, etc, can be extended to the attribution of pure perfections to God and creatures.  The problem is to come up with a way in which what is signfied by, say, 'wise' signifies something intrinsic in both us and God -- this is where the example of 'healthy' fails, since medicine and blood and urine, etc., are not, as it were, intrinsically healthy, but are instead just signs of or causes of the intrinsic health of animals.

    First of all, notice that we can now give an alternative characterization of the difference between terms used properly of God and terms used metaphorically of God.  The latter are predicated of creatures in the primary sense and of God in a secondary or derived way.  The former, by contrast, are predicated of God, who is uncreated Wisdom, Life, Goodness, etc., in the primary sense and of creatures in a secondary or derived way, insofar as they participate in a finite way in the perfections so named.  Notice that if 'God is wise' meant only 'God is a cause of created wisdom', then the primary sense would be that which applies to creatures, and we would not really be saying anything positive about God's nature itself when we called Him wise.  But, of course, St. Thomas insists that we are saying something about God's intrinsic nature and not just about His causal effects.  That's why the relevant terms must be said to be predicated of God in the primary sense. God really is wise, and we are called wise only because we participate in His wisdom in a finite way.  St. Thomas uses the Platonic notions of unparticipated perfection and participated perfection to deal with this problem.  Wisdom, for instance, is an intrinsic attribute of both us and God, but it is uncreated and unparticipated wisdom in God, whereas it is created and participated wisdom in us.  So 'wise' is used in the primary sense of God and in a derived sense of creatures.  More specifically, 'Socrates is wise' means something like 'Socrates has wisdom that participates in God's unparticipated wisdom'.  Hence, 'wise' as applied to creatures is defined by reference to God's unparticipated wisdom in just the way that 'healthy' as applied to medicine is defined by reference to the health of an animal.

    Of course, St. Thomas adds the qualification that even though we predicate such 'perfection terms' in the first instance (per prius) of God, they still have a mode of signification that belongs to creatures -- the concrete names because their mode of signifying implies composition and the abstract names because their mode of signifying implies existence in a subject rather than per se subsistence.

    Scotistic objection:  If each term has a res significata and ordinary perfection terms signify this thing absolutely while having a mode of signifying that implies finitude, why can't we just invent new terms, e.g., 'wise*', 'good*', 'powerful*', etc., that have the same res significata but are wholly neutral with respect to their mode of signifying, so that they can be predicated indifferently -- and hence univocally -- of both God and creatures.  St. Thomas's reply has to be along the lines I suggested above when I contrasted 'ordinary language' with 'ideal language' philosophy.  And the reply is simply to claim that an ideal language of the sort in question is impossible for us to construct, and this because we are constrained by our natural way of understanding the world.  To identify such limitations is not, contrary to what Scotists claim, a sufficient condition for overcoming or eliminating them.  The ultimate result is that the proposed terms 'wise*', 'good*' have the same mode of signification as their ordinary counterparts and so cannot function as neutral substitutes for them.  This is clear from the fact that sentences like 'Socrates is wise*' still imply a distinction between suppositum and form and hence still fail to do justice to God's simplicity.  We are still forced to use both 'God is wise' and 'God is wisdom' in tandem, as it were, in order to remind ourselves God eludes our attempts to name Him.  

  • 13,7:  This question is important in part because it gives us a synopsis of St. Thomas's understanding of the ontology of the Aristotelian category of relation, which is important here but becomes even more important in his later discussion of the divine persons.  The immediate topic here has to do with those names of God which imply the existence of creatures.  The question is whether such names are true of God only from a given point in time.  For instance, the name 'lord' implies things and persons over which the lord has power, and the name 'creator' implies the existence of things that have been created by the creator and even now are being given esse by the creator.  So, it seems, what is signified by such terms was not true of God from eternity, but was instead true only from a given point in time.

    On the surface this view seems to conflict with God's eternality and immutability.  If God went from not being a creator to being a creator, then this would seem to imply a change in God (obj. 2).  What's more, these names seem to signify perfections (e.g., power) which God did have from eternity, and so it seems to follow that terms are predicated of Him from eternity (obj. 1).  On the other hand, it might seem that if terms such as 'lord' and 'creator' are predicated of God from a given point in time, then so too are 'knowledge' and 'love', since Scripture tells us that God knew and loved creatures from eternity (obj. 3).  What's more, if relations are entities in the things related, then since God's being is eternal and cannot be added to, the reality signified by a name like 'lord' must have existed in God from eternity (obj. 4), and to claim that this relation is only a 'relation of reason' and is not a reality in God is to deny that God is really a lord or really a creator (obj. 5).

    In order to sort out these questions, St. Thomas begins with an exposition of the ontology of relation.  First of all, we must distinguish relational (or relative) names from the relations themselves.  The question then becomes:  "What ontological force do relational names have?  More specifically, do they signify distinctive accidental entities which (in the case of creatures) inhere in substances?"  Some authors claim that relational names never signify distinct relational entities, but rather presuppose only the existence of absolute (or non-relational) entities that reason looks at in a certain way.  On this view, for instance, when I say that Socrates is similar to Plato in wisdom, the only real entities signified are Socrates, Plato, Socrates's wisdom, and Plato's wisdom.  Given these entities and my cognition of them, I then go on to compare Socrates and Plato and see that they are similar.  However, there are not two further entities, viz., a similarity to Socrates that inheres in Plato and a similarity to Plato that inheres in Socrates.

    St. Thomas does not accept this view as a general account of the signification of relational names.  For instance, in the example just given, he does believe that there are two further entities, grounded in Socrates's wisdom and Plato's wisdom, one of which is Socrates's similarity (in wisdom) to Plato and the other of which is Plato's similarity (in wisdom) to Socrates.  For real relations must always be grounded in absolute entities, in this case two qualities, viz., the wisdom that inheres in Socrates and the wisdom that inheres in Plato.  However, there are some cases in which St. Thomas thinks that only relations of reason -- and not real relations -- are involved, and, more interestingly, some cases in which there is a real relation (or relational accidental entity) in one of subjects and only a relation of reason in the other subject -- this last sort of case turns out to be especially relevant in the case under discussion.  (To make this a little less mysterious right away, note that in some cases in which relational terms come to be predicable of a pair of entities, this is because a real intrinsic change has occurred in just one of the entities; in some such cases there will be real relational accident in the entity that has changed but only a relation of reason in the other entity.)  All this explains why in the response to a. 7 St. Thomas takes the time to lay out this more complex account of relations in some detail.   So here it is.

    Whenever a relational predication is true, we can distinguish three elements, viz., (a) the extremes (i.e., the things related), (b) the grounds or foundations of the relation, i.e., the absolute or non-relational entities because of which the extremes are related to one another in the relevant way, and (c) the relations themselves, one in each of the extremes.  St. Thomas distinguishes three separate general cases:

    • The complementary relations are merely relations of reason in both extremes:  These are cases in which cognition plays an essential role, i.e., a role in the absence of which there would be no true relational predication at all.  For instance, when I say 'Socrates is the same (substance) as Socrates', this truth is grounded in the cognitional activity of taking the same thing twice.  There is no distinctive accidental entity, viz., the relation of self-identity, that inheres in Socrates.  Rather, the truth 'Socrates is Socrates' or 'Socrates is the same as Socrates' has a sufficient ground in Socrates's being and oneness itself.  Again, on St. Thomas's view the species aardvarkiness and its genus animality are related as that which is included to that which includes it.  But this relation is a relation of conceptual inclusion and hence depends on cognitional activity.  The third example St. Thomas uses is any relation between a being and a non-being.  So suppose that I assert 'Sam Gamgee is even more courageous than General Eisenhower was'.  In this case the relation between them depends on cognitional activity, both Tolkien's and mine.

    • The complementary relations are both real relations:  In these cases, the relations reflected in true relational statements are part of the natural world, i.e., various orderings and connections that do not depend on the activity of reason.  On St. Thomas's view, all relations that are based on real qualities and quantities and actions and passions among creatures are of this sort.

    • The complementary relations are such that one is a real relation and the other is a relation of reason:  As St. Thomas tersely puts it, this sort of situation obtains when the two extremes "do not belong to the same order."  For instance, the act of understanding a material substance is intrinsically related to the substance it understands under some conception or other; however, the thing understood is in the "natural order" and is in no way altered or acted upon merely by being understood by a human knower.  As a naturally existing entity, it is in the "natural order" and not of itself in the "order of knowing."  So, say Aristotle and St. Thomas, when I say "The aardvark is known by me," the truth of this proposition demands that there be a real accidental relation in me founded in my act of understanding, but it does not demand that there be a real relation being known by Freddoso that exists in the aardvark.  Rather, the relation attributed to the aardvark is the result of the activity of reason.  In another interesting example, suppose that I assert, "I am to the right of the column."  Aristotle claims that in this case there is a real relation being to the right of the column that exists in me, but that there is no corresponding real relation in the column.  Why not?  Well, for one thing, there is no change in the column and the column does not act on me, whereas I move to a certain place.  More deeply, however, descriptions such as 'to the right of' presuppose the perspective of a being with cognition and hence presuppose cognitional activity.
The case of God and creatures falls under the third set of examples.  (Notice that this does not follow straightforwardly from God's simplicity.  After all, God's wisdom is a reality despite the fact that, given His simplicity, His wisdom is not distinct from His essence.  Later we will see that there are indeed relational realities in God, though, once again, they are not relational accidents but are instead the same as the divine essence.  These are the relations that constitute the divine persons.)  Creatures are dependent on God for their being and depend on God's governance of the world.  This is a real dependence relation that they have intrinsically and by necessity and from a given point in time.  But God's relations to creatures are not real entities -- even if these entities were thought of as being absorbed into the divine essence or nature.  Such relations do not signal any change in God, since God's creative and providential acts are the acts of a first efficient cause who acts without being acted upon.  For God's transeunt action exists in its effects (note the old scholastic dictum:  actio est in passo) and so it does not signal a reality within Himself, especially in view of the fact that God does not change by virtue of creating things.  God's transeunt action exists outside Himself in the creatures themselves or, at least, with the creatures as its terminus.  (See the material on the nature of action in sections 3 and 4 of "Suarez on Metaphysical Inquiry, Efficient Causality, and Divine Action.")

Hence, given this ontological situation, it is perfectly appropriate for those names that involve a relation to creatures to be predicable of God only from a given point in time, viz., whenever there are creatures of the appropriate sort.
  • 13,8-10:  The next three articles concentrate on the name 'God'.  In a. 8 St. Thomas claims that this name is a name that signifies God's essence or nature or substance, even though it is imposed because of the effects of His action.  In a. 9 he claims that even though the name 'God' is not shareable in reality, nonetheless, because we understand God's nature in the manner of a form existing in a suppositum, the name 'God' is shareable "according to opinion."  That is, one might mistakenly but coherently believe that there is more than one god.  If there is a name of God that signifies God as an individual or a this-something (perhaps the Hebrew name 'YHWH'), then that name is proper to God and in no way shareable.  Finally, in a. 10 St. Thomas asserts that pagans and Catholics are not equivocating when the one asserts and the other denies that a given idol is God.  For they both mean to be talking about the true God.  Still, one can intentionally use the name 'God' to mean that which some people believe to be the true God.  Also, the name 'god' can also signify those who have some participation in the life of the true God, viz., the blessed in heaven, as in Athanasius's statement, "God became man so that men might become gods."  In these last two senses the name is used analogously with '(true) God' as the focal meaning, and 'what some believe to be the true God' and 'having some participation in a likeness of the true God' as the derivative meanings.

  • 13,11:  Here St. Thomas zeroes in on the biblical name "I Am Who Am" or "He Who Is" and calls it "an especially proper name of God."  This is because it signifies God not under the conception of just some perfection or other, but rather under the conception esse, which is God's nature:  "Names are predicated of God by us in a more proper way to the extent that they are less determinate and more common and absolute," and the name "He Who Is" signifies an "uncircumscribed (or infinite) sea of substance."

  • 13,12:  This article is in some ways a summary of all that has gone before.  There are true affirmative propositions about God, i.e., true propositions attributing some perfection to God and not just denying some imperfection of Him.  Every simply true affirmative proposition (or composition) is such that the form signified by its subject and the form signified by its predicate are found in the same suppositum or subject.  As St. Thomas puts it, the predicate and the subject signify something that is in some sense the same in reality and diverse in concept.  Our intellect cannot grasp God's simple nature, but instead must bring together different conceptions or concepts in forming such propositions.  We thus can assert an affirmative truth about God even while understanding that the modes of signifying of the terms are in some sense inappropriate.  The very bringing together of subject and predicate are in a sense a way of compensating for the inadequacy of the terms' mode of signifying, since this propositional composition points toward God's simplicity insofar as God's one and simple reality corresponds to all these conceptions:  "Therefore, the intellect represents the conceptual plurality by means of the plurality of predicate and subject, whereas it represents the unity by means of the composition of predicate and subject."