Summary Against Modern Thought: God ‘s Existence And Essence Are The Same

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.

Thinking cap times, folks. What God is and that He is are the same thing. I AM WHO AM.

Chapter 22: That in God existence and essence are the same

1 FROM what has been shown above, we may go on to prove that in God essence or quiddity is not distinct from His existence.

2For it has been shown above[1] that there is a thing which exists of itself necessarily, and this is God.i Now necessary existence, if it belong to a quiddity which is not that existence itself, is either inconsistent with or repugnant to that quiddity, as per se existence is to the quiddity of whiteness, or else is consistent or akin thereto, for instance that whiteness exist in some other thing. In the former supposition it will not belong to that quiddity to exist per se necessarily, for instance it becomes not whiteness to exist per se. In the second hypothesis, either this existence must be dependent on the essence, or both of them on some other cause, or the essence on the existence. The first two are in contradiction with the very notion of necessary per se existence: for if it depend on something else, it no longer exists necessarily. From the third supposition it follows that this quiddity is added accidentally to the thing which exists per se necessarily: because whatever follows on the essence of a thing is accidental thereto. Therefore God has not an essence distinct from His existence.ii

5…Further. Each thing exists by its own existence. Wherefore that which is not its own existence does not exist per se necessarily. But God exists per se necessarily. Therefore God is His own existence.

7…Moreover. Existence denotes a kind of actuality: since a thing is said to exist, not through being in potentiality, but through being in act. Now everything to which an act is becoming, and which is distinct from that act, is related thereto as potentiality to act: since act and potentiality are reciprocal terms. Accordingly, if the divine essence is distinct from its existence, it follows that His essence and existence are mutually related as potentiality and act. Now it has been proved that in God there is nothing of potentiality, and that He is pure act.[4] Therefore God’s essence is not distinct from His existence.iii

9…Further. Everything exists through having existence. Therefore nothing the essence of which is not its existence, exists by its essence, but by participation of something, namely existence. Now that which exists by participation of something cannot be the first being, because that in which a thing participates in order to exist, is previous to that thing. But God is the first being, to which nothing is previous.[6] Therefore God’s essence is His existence.iv

10 This sublime truth Moses was taught by the Lord: for when he asked the Lord (Exod. iii. 13, 14): If the children of Israel should say to me: What is His name? what shall I say to them? the Lord answered: I AM WHO AM….Thus shalt thou say to the children of Israel: HE WHO IS hath sent me to you; thus declaring His own name to be: HE WHO IS. Now every name is appointed to signify the nature or essence of a thing. Wherefore it follows that God’s very existence itself is His essence or nature.v


iChapter 13. Always Chapter 13. Go and re-read it. Don’t be lazy.

iiRepeat that paragraph three times fast. It’s all there, but not put in the friendliest language to us, whose gray matter is accidentally much smaller than Thomas’s. Considering that paragraph’s density is what might have led him to re-write that proof in a happier way, in the Summa Theologica, Book 1, Question 3, Article 4, sed contra:

First, whatever a thing has besides its essence must be caused either by the constituent principles of that essence (like a property that necessarily accompanies the species–as the faculty of laughing is proper to a man–and is caused by the constituent principles of the species), or by some exterior agent–as heat is caused in water by fire. Therefore, if the existence of a thing differs from its essence, this existence must be caused either by some exterior agent or by its essential principles. Now it is impossible for a thing’s existence to be caused by its essential constituent principles, for nothing can be the sufficient cause of its own existence, if its existence is caused. Therefore that thing, whose existence differs from its essence, must have its existence caused by another. But this cannot be true of God; because we call God the first efficient cause. Therefore it is impossible that in God His existence should differ from His essence.

Secondly, existence is that which makes every form or nature actual; for goodness and humanity are spoken of as actual, only because they are spoken of as existing. Therefore existence must be compared to essence, if the latter is a distinct reality, as actuality to potentiality. Therefore, since in God there is no potentiality, as shown above (Article 1), it follows that in Him essence does not differ from existence. Therefore His essence is His existence.

Thirdly, because, just as that which has fire, but is not itself fire, is on fire by participation; so that which has existence but is not existence, is a being by participation. But God is His own essence, as shown above (Article 3) if, therefore, He is not His own existence He will be not essential, but participated being. He will not therefore be the first being–which is absurd. Therefore God is His own existence, and not merely His own essence.

Admit it: that is some pretty writin’! “[N]othing can be the sufficient cause of its own existence, if its existence is caused.” God is not caused, He is the necessary being, as we already learned. Thomas also refers to Article 3, “Whether God is the same as His essence or nature?”, in which he notes that in things composed of matter and form (like us and baseball bats) essence and existence differ, but in things “in which individualization is not due to individual matter”, and since God is not made of matter but does have an essence and since forms or universals don’t exist materially (we are not Plantonists here), God “must be His own Godhead, His own Life, and whatever else is thus predicated of Him.” What is predicated of Him, we are still to learn (Chapter 30).

Now St Thomas continues in Chapter 22, and so shall we, but omitting some of the now redundant material.

iiiThis is redundant, but I like it, because we ever need to emphasize the difference between potentiality and actuality.

ivBy being “first” being, Thomas does not mean God was caused. God’s existence is necessary. It’s not that everything else came “after” God, but that God is necessary for the existence of everything else. God is outside time.

v(Ellipsis original.) We don’t often include scriptural evidence, and even here we are not asking you to rely on it as a separate proof that essence = existence (we already have enough proof). But just look at what this nearly illiterate pre-computerized pre-Enlightenment “desert tribe” came up with! We have deduced from first principles the very same name of God as they knew! I AM = existence. WHO AM = essence. I AM WHO AM is equivalent to existence = essence, and so is HE WHO IS. Ain’t you amazed?! (I’m speaking in the voice of Captain Aubrey.)

[1] Ch. xiii.
[2] Ch. xviii.
[3] Ch. xiii.
[4] Ch. xvi.
[5] Ch. xviii.
[6] Ch. xiii.
[7] vii. 11.
[8] ii.


  1. Over all I am impressed but I am a little confused by your claim.

    “But just look at what this nearly illiterate pre-computerized pre-Enlightenment “desert tribe” came up with!”

    Exodus was not written by a desert tribe but was composed centuries later by a priestly caste, possibly in Babylon. It is also a melding of at least three different traditions (J, E, & P). I’m not sure which is responsible for the “I am who I am” or the more common “I am that I am”.

  2. ” I’m not sure which is responsible for the “I am who I am” or the more common “I am that I am”.”

    Elohist, I think.
    See Elohist, Yahwist and Priestly versions here.

    I have always understood “I am who am” to be a statement of monotheism: God is the God who actually exists, rather than all the others who don’t. But that’s just my personal interpretation of the translator’s intent. Whatever they meant, I’d be pretty sure it wasn’t Thomas’s argument they were thinking about – I suspect Thomas might have constructed the argument to fit the verse, rather than the other way round.

  3. “… just as that which has fire, but is not itself fire, is on fire by participation; so that which has existence but is not existence, is a being by participation.”

    !!! I actually get that! I have read this in other words but I actually get that!!!

    (I have always had trouble following Thomas Aquinas, which is extremely frustrating to me. I am a “big picture” thinker and he is very much a “step by step by step” thinker so it’s hard for me to stick to reading him long enough to really get it — he really does require you to master every single step.)

  4. The fatal flaw in the Documentary Hypothesis is that Wellhausen and the other 19th century German exegetes started with the assumption that evolutionary theory guided the development of sacred texts (an assumption that their contemporaries in many other fields falsely made). So they proposed a series of redactors who added ever greater layers of complexity to what they presumed had started as simple nature worship.

    This approach suffers two impediments: 1) advancements in history and anthropology since the 19th century argue against the notion that most religions start out simple and evolve inexorably toward greater complexity. The reverse actually seems to be the case. 2) The source documents don’t seem to exist. We haven’t found the tiniest shred of either J, E, D, or P. And much like evolutionary biologists who claim lock-step “scientific consensus”, scratching the surface of the Documentary Hypothesis reveals that no two Bible scholars agree on what material belongs in any of the hypothetical source docs.

    I think there’s strong evidence for the sacred authors being inspired by extant myths and folk tales (we have copies of the Epic of Gilgamesh, after all), but JEDP smacks of theory claiming to trump reality. And it doesn’t explain the linguistic shifts any better than a single author referencing popular narratives while varying his tone and style to emphasize certain points.

    Besides, even if some version of Documentary Theory is absolutely true, God can use editors as secondary causes just as easily as He can use writers. Any way you slice it, the revelation of the Tetragrammaton, whether at Horeb or much later in Babylon, is still the theological equivalent of finding a da Vinci schematic for a 747.

  5. Why, again, is God necessary? I can’t think of anything, not a single thing, he is necessary for. He is necessary for himself therefore he exists? That’s really it?


  6. “This approach suffers two impediments”

    Impediment 1 isn’t really an impediment, since it’s not necessary for the theory. Even biological evolution doesn’t always progress from simple to more complex. As I understand it, even the most primitive of the sources is already quite sophisticated, and likely the end point of many even earlier traditions. And in any case, the primary evidence for there being multiple sources is that various of the stories told are mutually inconsistent. The second impediment isn’t an impediment either, since we wouldn’t expect them to still exist after this length of time, especially bearing in mind how religious texts that are no longer in fashion tend to get destroyed.

    I agree that in a lot of cases the internal evidence is ambiguous and nobody really knows which of the sources it is from, if any. There could be a dozen more, for all we know.

    Up until your last paragraph, I thought you were just criticizing the documentary theory. So was the whole argument presented solely to defend the Pentateuch as divine revelation? It’s true that it would be as easy for God to use editors as to use authors, or for that matter, to write it into the fossil record. If somebody were to find thousands of copies of Exodus written on stone tablets buried in what appeared to be hundred million year rock, that would be kinda hard to explain! Or he could simply show up in person today and tell everybody. Omnipotence has all sorts of implications, like that if the evidence is ambiguous and explainable by natural means, that can only be because that’s the way he wants it. And if he wants it that way, who are we to say it’s not?

    “Any way you slice it, the revelation of the Tetragrammaton, whether at Horeb or much later in Babylon, is still the theological equivalent of finding a da Vinci schematic for a 747.”

    I’d like to see somebody fly across the Atlantic on nothing but the revelation of the Tetragrammaton!

    Actually, I do know of at least one divinely-inspired scripture that does offer the equivalent of a 747 schematic, although it’s actually about pure mathematics rather than engineering. But that one was said to be by a Goddess, as it happens, and not even a Middle Eastern one, so I’d guess you’re not going to be convinced.

  7. “Why, again, is God necessary? ”

    That is a very different question than does God exist. Nonetheless, it’s an important question when it comes to faith in the 21st Century. I can see and accept St. Thomas’ argument for God’s existence and I’ve been antithetical towards religion for most of my life. In fact, in reading this series I have to ask myself how I can deny the existence of God–and I can’t. So, I can rationalize and believe God “was” necessary but I’m not sure if God “is” necessary. I think that’s where St. Thomas breaks down.

  8. You don’t have to deny anything. If you have no tangible proof of something, one way to argue it’s existence is it’s necessity. This gets to the point of Briggs post. I’m asking, what exactly is God necessary for. You guys have no answer. Your argument is as untenable as God is ridiculous.

    It sounds to me like you want to believe in God, and hence the rationale. I personally would be unhappy to discover the Christian God is a real thing. He’s an unpleasant mythological character at best, narcissistic, arbitrary, and endlessly conflicting.


  9. This is incomprehensible.

    Which part? If you are not following the metaphysics, particularly the distinction between act and potency, I can understand why you’re not understanding these posts.

  10. JMJ: That’s not what “necessary being” means. It means “not contingent being”. It does not mean “required for X.” The NB may indeed be required for other stuff, but not especially because it is a “necessary being.”

    For example. Suppose the essence of smoo just is its existence, as the present theorem demonstrates. Then, since smoo’s essence is to exist, it may be identified with Existence Itself. And of all the things that might or might not exist, Existence Itself is something that must exist. That is:

    Existence exists. And it cannot not exist.

  11. @dover_beach

    Lets start with the choice of words. Repugnant? A very strong kind of inconsistency, so that its negation is consistency or a mild inconsistency?

  12. YOS, a quote from the dutch atheistic vicar Klaas Hendrikse. “God exists, but not like a jar of peanut butter exists.”
    A “Creator of the Universe” exists by definition, but I would not call it “God”.

  13. @YOS
    Isn’t that called reïfication?

    Depends. Does Existence exist or not? Remember, we started with the necessary existence of a primary actualizer of potentials and have only now concluded that this PAoP is identical with its existence; i.e., there is a being that is existence.

    a quote from the dutch atheistic vicar Klaas Hendrikse. “God exists, but not like a jar of peanut butter exists.”

    Precisely! God is existence, not one existant among others; not even a “supreme” being, but Being itself.

  14. @YOS

    That is existence as a (boolean) attribute of the thing itself. And not existence as the thing being an attribute of another thing.

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