Of God and His Creatures

How Things copy the Divine Goodness

Not all creatures are established in one and the same degree of goodness. The substance of some is form and actuality, -- that is to say, something which, in point of essence, has the attribute of actual being and goodness.* The substance of other beings is composed of matter and form: this substance has the attribute of actual being and goodness, but only in respect of part of itself, namely, the form. While then the divine substance is its own goodness, a simple substance (or pure spirit) partakes of this goodness to the extent of its essence, but a composite substance to the extent of some part of its essence. In this third grade of substance again there is found a difference in being. For, composed as they are of matter and form, the form of some of them fills the whole potentiality of the matter, so that there remains not in the matter any potentiality to any other form, and consequently not in any other matter any potentiality to this form: such are the heavenly bodies, into the essential constitution of which their whole matter enters.* In other bodies the form does not fill the whole potentiality of the matter: hence there still remains in the matter a potentiality to another form, and in some portion of matter there remains a potentiality to this form, as appears in the (four) elements and bodies composed thereof. Now because a privation is a negation in a substance of that which may well be in the substance, it is clear that with this form, which does not fill the whole potentiality of the matter, there is compatible the privation of some form due to that substance. No such privation can attach to a substance, the form of which fills the whole potentiality of its matter; nor to a substance which is essentially a form; still less to that Substance, whose very being is His essence. Further it is clear that, since evil is the privation of good, there is in this lowest order of substances changeable good with admixture of evil, a changeableness to which the higher orders are not liable.* The substance therefore that ranks lowest in being is lowest also in rank of goodness.

We likewise find an order of goodness among the parts of a substance composed of matter and form. For since matter, considered in itself, is potential being,* while form is the actualisation of that being, and the substance composed of the two is actually existent through the form, the form will be good in itself; the composed substance will be good as it actually has the form; and the matter will be good inasmuch as it is in potentiality to the form. But though everything is good in so far as it is being, it need not be supposed that matter, as it is only potential being, is only potentially good. For 'being' is an absolute term, while there is goodness even in relation: for not only is a thing called 'good' because it is an end, or is in possession of an end, but also, though it has not yet arrived at any end, provided only it be ordained to some end, a thing is called 'good' even on that account. Though then matter cannot absolutely be called 'being' on the title of its potentiality involving some relation to being, yet it may absolutely be called 'good' on account of this very relation. Herein it appears that 'good' is a term of wider extension than 'being.'

Yet in another way does the goodness of the creature fall short of the divine goodness. As has been said, God possesses the highest perfection of goodness in his mere being: but a created thing does not possess its perfection in point of one attribute only, but in point of many: for what is united in the highest is multiple and manifold in the lowest.* Hence God is said to be fraught with virtue and wisdom and activity in one and the same respect, but a creature in different respects. The greater the distance at which a creature stands removed from the first and highest goodness, the greater the multiplication of points requisite for it to be perfectly good. But if it cannot attain to perfect goodness, it will hold on to an imperfect goodness in a few points. Hence it is that, though the first and highest goodness is absolutely simple, and the substances nearest to it approach it alike in goodness and in simplicity, still the lowest substances are found to be more simple than other substances higher than they are, as the elements are more simple than animals and men, because they cannot attin to the perfection of knowledge and understanding to which animals and men attain.* It appears therefore from what has been said that, though God has His goodness perfect and entire in the simplicity of His being, creatures nevertheless do not attain to the perfection of their goodness by their mere being, but only by many details of being. Hence, though every one of these creatures is good in so far as it has being, still it cannot absolutely be called good if it is destitute of other qualities requisite for its goodness; as a man devoid of virtues and subject to vices is good in a certain way, inasmuch as he is a being and inasmuch as he is a man, but on the whole he is not good, but rather evil. For no creature then is it the same thing to be and to be good, absolutely speaking, although every creature is good in so far as it has being: but for God it is quite the same thing to be and to be good, absolutely speaking. Now, as it has been shown, everything tends finally to some likeness of the divine goodness; and a thing is likened to the divine goodness in respect of all the points which appertain to its own proper goodness; and the goodness of a thing consists not only in its being but in all other qualities requisite for its perfection: from which considerations the consequence is clear, that a thing is finally ordained to God, not only in its substantial being, but likewise in those accidental qualities that appertain to its perfection, and also in respect of its proper activity, which likewise belongs to the perfection of a thing.

3.19 : That all things aim at Likeness to God
3.21 : That things aim at Likeness to God in being Causes of other things