William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Summary Against Modern Thought: God Is Not Made Of Parts

This may be proved in three ways. The first...

This may be proved in three ways. The first…

See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

That God, accepting He exists based on the previous proofs, is not a composite object won’t be especially difficult to believe. Except for those who, strangely, believe God is a created (or maybe “evolved”) being. If He was, it begs the question how. And that would immediately bring us back to how anything changes, which must involve the existence of a necessary Being, which is to say, God Himself. Reminder: it simply makes no sense to say things “just happen” or happen “by chance” or “randomly.” There must be a First Cause.

Chapter 18: That in God there is no composition

1 FROM the foregoing we are able to conclude that there is no composition in God. For in every composite thing there must needs be act and potentiality: since several things cannot become one simply, unless there be something actual there and something else potential. Because those things that are actually, are not united except as an assemblage or group, which are not one simply.i In these moreover the very parts that are gathered together are as a potentiality in relation to the union: for they are actually united after being potentially unitable. But in God there is no potentiality.ii[1] Therefore in Him there is no composition.

2 Again. Every composite is subsequent to its components. Therefore the first being, namely God,[2] has no component parts.

3 Further. Every composite is potentially dissoluble, so far as its composite nature is concerned, although in some there is something else incompatible with dissolution. Now that which is dissoluble is in potentiality to not-being. But this cannot be said of God, since of His very essence He is necessarily. Therefore there is no composition in Him.iii

4 Moreover. Every composition requires a compounder: for if there be composition, it results from several things: and things that are several in themselves would not combine together unless they were united by a compounder. If then God were composite, He would have a compounder: for He could not compound Himself, since no thing is its own cause, for it would precede itself, which is impossible. Now the compounder is the efficient cause of the composite. Therefore God would have an efficient cause: and thus He would not be the first cause, which was proved above.[3]iv

5 Again. In any genus the more simple a thing is the more excellent it is; such, in the genus hot, is fire which has no admixture of cold. Therefore that which obtains the summit of nobility among beings, must be in the summit of simplicity. Now that which obtains the summit of nobility in things is what we call God, since He is the first cause, because the cause is more excellent than its effect. Therefore there can be no composition in Him.v

6 Moreover. In every composite thing the good does not belong to this or that part but to the whole, and I speak of good in reference to that goodness which is proper to, and is the perfection of, the whole: thus the parts are imperfect in relation to the whole: thus the parts of a man are not a man, nor have the parts of the number six the perfection of six, nor do the parts of a line attain to the perfection of the measure found in the whole line.vi Therefore if God is composite, His proper perfection and goodness are found in the whole of God but not in any of His parts.vii And thus the good that is proper to Him will not be purely in Him; and consequently He will not be the first and supreme good.viii

7 Further. Before every multitude it is necessary to find unity. Now in every composite there is multitude. Therefore that which is before all things, namely God, must needs be devoid of all composition.ix


iIf A is joined to B, there is A+B not AB, or rather, there is not an indivisible (new) C. If something is composite, it is in potential to being busted apart, to being A and B again.

iiDon’t forget that St Thomas earlier proved that in God there is no potentiality. Maybe it’s not obvious, but from this we deduce that God is not a “life-force”, or evolved being, made of parts. God is not an anthropomorphic being, is not made of pasta or DNA or anything material, even though he can be painted that way. God is Being itself, and Being itself is not be decomposable. Being itself cannot be painted or pictured.

iiiWe have already proved that God, as First Mover or Unchanging Changer, must necessarily exist, or nothing could ever move or change. This why St Thomas says, “since of His very essence He is necessarily.”

ivI find this very pretty. Everything that changes has a cause for the change. A composite is caused to be composite from its parts (somehow). And we’re right back at the beginning. Of course, we must never forget, not everything changes. God does not, because God is not in potentiality.

vThis extra, unneeded argument will probably sound phony, or at least fishy, to modern ears. And anyway, it doesn’t reach syllogistic proof because of the (as yet unproved) premise that the more excellent something is, the simpler it is. Simpler? To moderns, simpler is equated with stupider or that which is less useful. But to St Thomas, it is associated with elegance, beauty, sublimity. This is why he says “the cause is more excellent than its effect.” After all, without the cause, there is no effect.

viAnd here is similar language. A jigsaw puzzle can still be beautiful even though it’s missing a piece, but it hasn’t reached it’s potential perfection, or rather completeness. It may also come as a surprise to some atheists to learn that the parts of a man are not a man. But a man can have missing parts and still be a man, though an imperfect instantiation of one. A few cells which live as a man, though small, is also a man (after all, what are you but a large collection of cells?). That some objects, or people, exist as imperfections does not do away with perfection.

viiIn other words, if God is put together from pieces, those individual pieces are not the perfection—only the whole is. or could be Just like the jigsaw puzzle.

viiiThe good will not be purely in him, because the good would be in the whole which is made of pieces. The good would be in pieces too, as it were. Now this follows: “consequently He will not be the first and supreme good”. This is not a complete argument that God is the first and supreme good. St Thomas is anticipating that claim, which is anyway familiar even to us moderns (that God is Good). Thus, this also is not, at this point, another proof that God is not composite.

ixOkay, fine, But what about the Trinity? God the Father, Jesus-slash-God, God the Holy Ghost? How could God be three in one? How could a non-composite God be a man? Short answer: nobody knows. Not how. But we can know that. And we can only know things like this through faith, through revelation. Because of this, St Thomas does not concentrate on these matters, taking as his subject on those propositions which can be proved via the senses in absence of ordinary revelation.

We still haven’t close to describing God’s essence. We know he’s outside of time (eternal), not in potentiality, and not made of stuff. But that’s it so far. There is much more to come. How much? An infinite amount!

Update Perhaps this is the best ever explanation of the Trinity.

[1] Ch. xvi.
[2] Ch. xiii.
[3] Ch. xiii.


  1. Sander van der Wal

    August 24, 2014 at 10:12 am

    5) As a counterexample of the ‘”simpler is better” argument being anathema to modern ears’, there is of course the famous Einstein quote.

    As a proof, it is of course rubbish. The simplest argument possible is “Because”. Which nobody regards a a good argument.

    6) talks about goodness and perfection, and it has not been proven that these are necessary attributes. Therefore the proof doesn’t mean anything at this stage.

    ix) that’s not going to fly. If a singular thing can be Father, Son and Holy Spirit, then there is no logical reason for another singular thing not to be a Father and Holy Spirit, or a Son and a Father, or just a Son. I do not know what it means, just being able to label it is sufficient.

    After all, for all other arguments I do not have to know what they mean either. If a thing is singular or composite, I do not have to know what singular means, or what composite means. I only have to know that single is not composite, composite is not single, and the law of the excluded middle.

  2. The creation of the universe does not rule out that this was preformed by a created demiurg, i.e. a part of God.

  3. Dear Matt,

    You have ruined my Sunday. For years now I have pointed out to you repeatedly that the Thomistic (and Feserian, and school Thomist) ‘Deus Unus’ does not merely ‘not explain’ the Most Holy Trinity, but that the Thomistic concept of ‘Deus Unus’ is, in plain fact, obviously, clearly, actively incompatible with the Trinity.

    You yourself lamely write today that the Trinity is without explanation by this Thomistic line of reasoning; again I insist that an active incompatibility of this line of reasoning with the Trinity is the cause of this line of reasoning’s failure to explain anything at all about the Trinity — indeed, to render the Trinity a blank surd by its own principles.

    The Deus Unus, as presented by St. Thomas himself and as asserted by all school Thomists, practically amounts to a reductio ad absurdum of school Thomism (though not of St. Thomas himself, who was not his school); which is to say, it amounts to a refutation of the entire line of reasoning — yet no one bats an eye.

    No one has a problem with a so-called ‘systematic’ theology in which the Trinity appears as just a blank surd, entirely outside of explanation by ‘natural’ reason? And no one has a problem with the coruscating neuralgia of the ‘One and the Many’, in which the Deus Unus MUST have no relation (by that same ‘reason’) not even to His Son, nor to creation, and thus to Man, and to all Man’s work in this vale of tears, lest It — and I do mean ‘It’ — be no longer complete in Itself, no longer a ‘perfection’?

    Yet today in this post, there is some good news. Some of the absolutely central defects of this (to be kind) incomplete school Thomism, fundamental errors in assumption and in reasoning that engender– that inevitably cause — irresolvable problems for central Catholic truths: not just the Trinity, but the Incarnation, transubstantiation, and even a solid ground for responsible human behavior, for the moral life; are plain as the nose on a face.

    And yet herein I find repeated the commonplace excuses for the whole scheme, as if the millionth person’s mindless repetition of Aristotle’s statement in On the Heavens (I.vi), that of two bodies, the one with twice the mass will fall from the same height in only one-half the time, would finally be the repetition that would make it accurate.

  4. Briggs

    August 24, 2014 at 4:53 pm


    We agree about the language of 5 and 6, thus far. And, as I said above, I do not push them as proofs of the contention. But 1-3 are by now, or should be, perfectly plain.


    Yes, it does. For the demiurge would be inside time, in potential, made of matter (at least partly), and composite. And it would beg the question of how this “complex” creature arrived. And it wouldn’t answer the First Mover question. And so on.

    John K.

    I have the idea you’re taking this personally. Of course, what we have today are the beginnings of the proof that God is “simple”, in the metaphysical sense. (To others, the word “simple” does not take its modern, commonplace meaning here.)

    We can see you don’t like this idea, but we can also see you have offered nothing but dismay. Why not counter the proofs above? Why not offer alternatives?

  5. Briggs: The greek and the hindu have solved the polytheistic creation issue very elegantly.

    I am sure you must be aware that monotheistic christianity did not survive very long in the everyday devotion of the common catholic?

  6. The creation of the universe does not rule out that this was preformed by a created demiurg, i.e. a part of God.

    A demiurge is not a part of God, but a created being, that itself requires explanation. And you know where that ends don’t you.

  7. Briggs

    August 24, 2014 at 8:19 pm


    Did it not? It survived with me and with many other fellow pew sitters.

    That it didn’t stick with you is obvious. However, where there is life there is hope.

  8. Ye Olde Statisician

    August 24, 2014 at 9:22 pm

    The simplest argument possible is “Because”.
    That is not the simplest argument because it is not an argument at all.
    If a singular thing can be Father, Son and Holy Spirit, then there is no logical reason for another singular thing not to be a Father and Holy Spirit, or a Son and a Father, or just a Son.
    If at a later point in this series of theorems we discover that the Being of Pure Actuality (BPA) is all-power full (i.e., full of all powers) because it is the first mover of all such powers, then there is something in the BPA that is “like” the powers of intellect and will in humans. This makes the BPA analogous to a person, so we can call it “him” rather than “it” from this point on. And given the “eternal”, “immaterial,” “all power-full,” etc. stuff, we may as well just say “God.”
    But if in God are the two predicates “to know” and “to desire,” then absent any gratuitous creations, each must have a subject and an object. The subject of both predicates is the same and we call him the Father. God as the object of his own intellect is called the Word. (And since the product of intellect is a conception, we call the Word the “Only Conceived” of God). God as the object of his own desire is called the Spirit, and since desire proceeds forth to the desired and returns with it, we say that the Spirit proceeds from the Father. But since there are no parts in God, no unfilled potentialities, then the Father, Son, and Spirit must each and severally be fully God.
    This is because the Latin Church, beset with Sabellianism, emphasized the Oneness of God and had to develop a theology of Persons. The Greek Church, attacked by different heresies, such as Hans’ Arianism, started with the Persons and had to develop a theology of Oneness. Some folks call this the top-down and bottom-up approach.
    But all this is getting way ahead of Contra gentiles, since those proofs come somewhat later in the stream.

  9. Sander van der Wal

    August 25, 2014 at 1:07 am


    Of course it is an argument. Ask any parent with three year old children. The only people that do not yet know its not a good argument.

    Fulfilling a desire is a form of change. A desire fulfilled is not a desire anymore. Thinking is a form of change too. The only way that this is going to work if all kind of stuff is kept deliberately outside the act-potentiality duality. But then you have to prove that such a thing is possible and that it can only be done by first movers.

  10. Nullius in Verba

    August 25, 2014 at 4:48 am

    “The simplest argument possible is “Because”. Which nobody regards a a good argument.”

    It depends how you phrase it.

    Most answers to the question “Why?” take the form “Because X rather than not-X”, where X is shown to be necessary by the fact that non-X would not result in the thing being explained. Explanation of this form is thus reliant on the potential-actual divide. For a cause to determine an effect, it has to be the case that not having the cause would remove the effect. So all causes must have the potential to not be. It is the fact they they are, rather than that they are not, that causes the effect.

    But even a 3-year old can spot the problem here, which is that you get an endless chain of causes to go with the endless chain of ‘Why?’ questions. “But why is X rather than not-X?” “Because Y rather than not-Y.” “But why is Y rather than not-Y?” “Because Z rather than not-Z.” And so on.

    The parent quickly realises that the only way to stop the infinite regress is to come up with a ‘because’ that doesn’t split into potential and actual, so there is nothing to explain. They represent this concept with the empty set. “Because.” Because what? Because nothing: just ‘Because.’

    The empty set is regarded as actual without requiring an explanation, which is why it has been chosen as an axiom in the foundations of mathematics. (Note, it is the set that is regarded as actual rather than its contents, of which there aren’t any.) If it didn’t exist then the first set would have to have something in it, which you would then have to explain. But nothing requires no explanation.

    So “Because.” is jumping over the entire infinite regress back to its start, which is the empty set. It is the explanation that requires no explanation, because there is nothing in it to explain.

    What else could an ultimate answer look like? Anything else you put after “Because…” even a three-year old can always ask “Why?” of.

    There is another possible starting point, the complement to the empty set, which is the universal set. This is expressed in the question-answer pair: “Why anything?” “Because everything.”

    This is also immune to the “Why?” question because again there is no potential-actual divide to explain. ‘Everything’ is everything that can be, and no alternative is possible because any alternative is impossible by definition. (It can also be phrased “Because it can“, which is also an answer often given to three-year olds.)

    This isn’t quite as intuitive a starting point as the empty set, because it implies that everything that can be, is. Because we only perceive a very limited part of reality, there are a lot of things that can be but appear not to be so far as we can see. So we generally assume that the universe itself has a potential-actual divide in need of explanation, and we therefore can’t use it as a starting point.

    However, one version of quantum physics holds to the principle that everything not forbidden is compulsory, and that everything that can be, is. Every possible history, every alternative outcome, exists in superposition. The regularities we observe are a consequence of that superposition – ‘forbidden’ alternatives cancel out. And the potential-actual divide we see is an illusion – everything is actual, the ‘potential’ is just those parts of it we cannot see.

    Metaphysically, this is the only possible solution. Empirically, because we can never directly observe the potentials being actual elsewhere, it’s not something subject to proof.

    “Because.” is as good an explanation of it as any.

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