William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Summary Against Modern Thought: God Is Not A Body

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.

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Chapter 27: That God Is Not In The Form Of A Body

1 ACCORDINGLY, having shown that God is not the being of all,i it can be proved in like manner that God is not the form of any thing.

2 For the divine being cannot be the being of a quiddity that is not it own being, as shown above.[1] Now that which is the divine being itself is no other than God. Therefore it is impossible for God to be the form of any other thing.ii

3 Further. The form of a body is not its very being but the principle of its being. But God is being itself. Therefore God is not the form of a body.

4 Again. The union of form and matter results in a composite, and this is a whole in respect of form and matter. Now the parts are in potentiality with respect to the whole: but in God there is no potentiality.[2] Therefore it is impossible for God to be the form united to any thing.

5 Again. That which has being per se, is more excellent than what has being in another. Now every form of a body has being in another. Since then God is the most excellent being, as the first cause of being,[3] He cannot be the form of any thing.iii

6 Moreover, this can also be proved from the eternity of movement, as follows.[4] If God were the form of a movable thing, since He is the first mover, the composite will be its own mover. But that which moves itself can be moved and not moved. Therefore it is in it to be either. Now a thing of this kind has not of itself indefectibility of movement. Therefore above that which moves itself we must place something else as first mover, which confers on it perpetuity of movement. And thus God Who is the first mover is not the form of a body that moves itself.iv

7 This argument avails for those who hold the eternity of movement. Yet if this be not granted the same conclusion may be drawn from the regularity of the heavenly movement. For just as that which moves itself can both be at rest and be moved, so can it be moved with greater or less velocity. Wherefore the necessity of uniformity in the heavenly movement depends on some higher principle that is altogether immovable, and that is not the part, through being the form, of a body which moves itself.v

8 The authority of Scripture is in agreement with this truth. For it is written in the psalm:[5] Thy magnificence is elevated above the heavens; and (Job xi. 8, 9): He is higher than heaven, and what wilt thou do?…the measure of Him is longer than the earth, and deeper[6] than the sea.vi

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iGod is not the universe. Pantheism is out.

iiAs proved before, God’s existence and essence are the same; existence itself is not a body; a body is partly in act, partly in potential, but in God there is no potential; just as God is not made of material stuff; thus God is not a body. These same (now proven) premises are picked up in arguments 3 and 4.

iiiThe thing to recall here is that objects, like bodies, are composites of form and matter. The same matter under the “influence” of other forms is a different object; i.e. objects are instantiated forms. Ed Feser’s favorite example (now forever stuck in my head) is rubber balls and erasers: two objects made of the same matter, but with different forms. But God is not made of matter, and God’s form is His existence, therefore He is not a body.

ivWe ever come back to Chapter 13, which is best to review. So much flows from the demonstration that God is Unmoved Mover, the Uncaused Cause, and other nicknames, that it is astonishing. The proof here flows directly (and easily).

vIt’s as well here as anywhere to remind us of the kind of movement Aquinas spoke of in his proof of God being the First Cause. He was not talking about the kind of movement like dominoes, where one pushes another and so on. He meant the here-and-now bottom-down ultimate cause of all movement. If you can’t remember this distinction, do the review before commenting.

viI normally leave the scriptural arguments out because they are not convincing to modern audiences. However in this case, since the question has often arise that since Jesus was in the form of a body, and in the Eucharistic species, and that Jesus is part of the Trinity, i.e. is God, does it not follow that God is a body? It does not. Jesus is God, and had a fully divine nature. But he was also a man and had a human nature, a nature that required a body. That part of him was not divine; it was human flesh, just like ours. The Eucharistic is likewise of two natures, divine and mundane. The bread is there, but do is the divine. Now how are these miracles brought about? I haven’t the slightest idea.

Likewise, when scripture uses figurative or metaphorical language (“Seated a the right hand of God…”), it is just that: figurative or metaphorical. Avoid the atheist temptation to read all of the Bible literally.

[1] Ch. xxii.
[2] Ch. xvi.
[3] Ch. xiii.
[4] Cf. chs. xiii., xx.
[5] Ps. viii. 2.
[6] Vulg., broader.
[7] Sum. Th. P. I., Q. iii., A. 8.

13 Comments

  1. Was Aquinas then an arianist? For this excludes the body of Christ as Godly.

  2. And that’s why Jesus was fully God and fully man. A human nature and a divine nature in one person. The Unmoved Mover wasn’t moved.

    Yeah, we Christians have never been very good in math! 😉

  3. And with that I leave the temptation for the obvious more sarcastic answer aside, e.g.: “Yeah, Aquinas probably never thought of that, and yet he somehow became the Doctor of the Catholic Church.”

    Oops, looks like I didn’t…

  4. Ye Olde Statisician

    November 23, 2014 at 7:35 pm

    You mean like in Book IV ch. 40 of this very selfsame S. cont. gen., where Aquinas notes the objection to the incarnation:
    [2] We showed in Book I that God is neither a body nor a power in a body. But, if He assumed flesh, it follows either that He was changed into a body or that He was a power in a body after the Incarnation. It seems, then, impossible that God was incarnate.
    Ostensum est enim in primo libro quod Deus neque corpus est, neque virtus in corpore. Si autem carnem assumpsit, sequitur quod vel sit mutatus in corpus, vel quod sit virtus in corpore, post incarnationem. Impossibile igitur videtur Deum fuisse incarnatum.
    He enumerates no less than thirteen such objections, and then deals with them in ch. 41.
    http://dhspriory.org/thomas/ContraGentiles4.htm#40
    et seq.

    But we are only in Book I ch. 27, so it’s early days yet.

  5. And what is the proof that the “Eucharistic is likewise of two natures, divine and mundane,” a tenet rejected by some Protestant denominations?

  6. Sander van der Wal

    November 24, 2014 at 1:34 am

    Second try for Spinoza, who proved that God is the Universe.

  7. The Universe is not God but of God.

  8. Avoid the atheist temptation to read all of the Bible literally.

    When you conjoin “atheist” and “read all of the Bible literally” you are no doubt referring to “atheists” such as Ken Ham (answers in genesis), Dr. Tom Lahaye (co-author of the Left Behind series of books) and numerous others self-described as “Evangelicals” eh?

    The ascension of Jesus (e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ascension_of_Jesus) has him rising bodily into heaven; in various passages Jesus himself self-describes himself ascending (an even to come) and later descending (2nd Coming).

    Such views – of a bodily realm in “heaven” – were wholly consistent with Bronze Age perceptions of what the “heavens” (stars & planets) were & how they might be accessed (e.g., the ancient story of Icarus & Daedalus – flying via wings made with wax that melted when they got too close to the sun; or, ancient Greek stories of heroes visiting hell, etc.). The metaphorical perception – heaven as a spiritual realm in some other “dimension” separate from a bodily realm –was not how the ancients perceived the universe to be.

    In 2 Corinthians 12 we read of a person claiming to have visited (or knew of someone else who visited—often interpreted to be the same person speaking of himself in the “3rd person” context), who visited the “third heaven.” This person was a bodily person for the round trip.

    Similarly, a Christian apocryphal book, The Ascension of Isaiah, describes a similar passage thru the various levels of heaven (seven layers of heaven in that reference).

    And there are many more examples – both Christian & non-Christian (pagan & religious neutral texts) addressing the make-up of the universe depict of physical layered perception that facilitated bodily journey (for those who figured out how to make the trip or get divine help).

    The Bronze Age Biblical story in this regard is entirely consistent with both the astronomical (such as it was then perceived) and religious perceptions of the time – that of a layered heavenly realm that one could, and some claimed to have, physically transit.

    Of course, now, we know such perceptions are false…and new explanations for old commentaries arise…but those explanations are inconsistent with, even beyond the comprehension & imagination of, those who authored the original stories.

  9. Ken

    Without accusing anyone, I am troubled by anyone (Atheist or Christian) who interprets the Bible literally. The atheist has perhaps built a straw dog, the Christian has perhaps built an idol.

    There is a way that seems right to man but in the end it leads to death – Proverbs 16:25

    John says in the beginning was the word, and the word … well most Christians are willing to accept John’s allegorical description of God becoming man. The problem I have is not when Christians properly view the Bible as “the word of God” but when they raise it to the level of “The Word”. They become “stuck” when their understanding of “The Word” doesn’t mesh with the “scientific” understanding of “The World”.

    Grantinng that either or both understandings may be wrong, to blindly draw a line in the sand from either viewpoint, is a Proverbs 16:25 problem.

  10. Ye Olde Statisician

    November 24, 2014 at 11:02 am

    And what is the proof that the “Eucharistic is likewise of two natures, divine and mundane,” a tenet rejected by some Protestant denominations?

    S. cont. gen. Book IV Ch. 61-68
    http://dhspriory.org/thomas/ContraGentiles4.htm#61

    We’re only in Book I Ch.27

    When you conjoin “atheist” and “read all of the Bible literally” you are no doubt referring to “atheists” such as Ken Ham (answers in genesis), Dr. Tom Lahaye (co-author of the Left Behind series of books) and numerous others self-described as “Evangelicals” eh?

    Pretty much so. Next thing to it, as Augustine observed a millennium and a half ago.

    The Bronze Age Biblical story in this regard is entirely consistent with both the astronomical (such as it was then perceived) and religious perceptions of the time

    The Bronze age was long over by the time those stories were written. But where do you suppose writers get their tropes and images from? If the stories had been written in 19th century Europe (The Industrial Age) they would have been full of imagert based on mechanical contrivances, Darwinian selection, and other myths of that era. They had no idea as then of programming, genetics, and the like. Why would anyone suppose that there is no progress in understanding of revelation?

    I am troubled by anyone (Atheist or Christian) who interprets the Bible literally. The atheist has perhaps built a straw dog, the Christian has perhaps built an idol.

    Well, except for the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, which have never insisted on such naive literalism. Recall that Augustine insisted that while all passages ought to be interpreted allegorically, there may be some that might be regarded as a faithful account of events. These two Traditional Churches account for roughly two-thirds of all Christians; so when we say “what Christianity teaches,” it makes more sense to refer to the Magisterium of the Latin and Greek patriarchates than to those of Pastor Bob down at the storefront sect.

  11. “Avoid the atheist temptation to read all of the Bible literally.”

    I do, the Bible is one big metaphor. I am trying in vain to apply logic to a made up story. Of course Jesus is man and God and therefore God is not a body.

    Anything goes.

  12. RE YOS’s: The Bronze age was long over by the time those stories were written. But where do you suppose writers get their tropes and images from?

    EXACTLY: Any study of comparative religions reveals recurring themes & plots; Christianity is no different, with much the same tweaked to give a different story in details, but the same story in general. Virgin (or maiden) birth; Hercules was, like Jesus, sired by a deity (nothing new or unique on this detail); death & resurrection–many older gods (plus, ancient astronomy–e.g. “death” of the sun on the shortest day of the year where it seems to stop its descent for three days [“dies for three days”] before rising [see solstices & equinoxes] — much of the Jesus story is a mnemonic for such astronomical themes of high significance to ancient cultures); 153 fish predicted & counted — linked to then hidden wisdom associated with the square root of three (see vesica piscus on wiki); divine ascension–Romulus (co-founder of Rome) was said to have done the same thing to become the god Quirinus [also an example of early Rome co-opting & redefining a local god–a typical pattern among all societies that conquer & incorporate the conquered], and such examples can go on & on & on.

    For a good book see: Jesus Christ, Sun of God: Ancient Cosmology and Early Christian Symbolism, by David Fideler. Here’s a description: http://www.cfimichigan.org/pastevents/event/ancient-cosmology-and-early-christian-symbolism/ also see jesus8880.com for a hint.

    The Gospel story, especially the first (Mark’s) is chock-full of such symbolism and then-contemporary secret wisdom (Jesus, one observes, makes numerous references to such secret knowledge hidden from the masses via parables — and other literary devices). Fideler’s book gives a fair taste of such secret knowledge hidden in the mnemonic literary device that is the Gospel of Mark (that also incorporates a parallel story — all of which is so artfully combined that it’s worth learning Greek to truly appreciate the story in its full grandeur).

    RE: “If the stories had been written in 19th century Europe (The Industrial Age) they would have been full of imagert based on mechanical contrivances, Darwinian selection, and other myths of that era. They had no idea as then of programming, genetics, and the like. Why would anyone suppose that there is no progress in understanding of revelation?”

    AAAARRRGH!! YOS’s so-called “progress in understanding revelation” is in actuality revisionist history at work. Finding out how various pagan themes were adapted from one society to the next is far more interesting — and is the search for true truth (and rather well-documented truth at that, even after two millennium…for those that care).

    The patterns are very clear; the stories & references we have are one in a series of examples of humans crafting god in their image (not god making humans in His image). It’s not “revelation” one needs to understand — it’s history in all its relevant detail. Learn the history & see the patterns–and outright plagiarism’s–all the narrative parallels, and hidden meanings perfectly aligned with then-contemporary ancient wisdom & secret cults and one cannot escape the obvious — these patterns are not coincidence or anachronistic.

    Put another way, if the story describes a quack like a duck, waddling like a duck…it’s about a duck. Not god.

    The only revelation one has to grapple with is having been duped into believing another iteration of a recurring ancient myth was real…and then letting go of something that was never there to begin with. Just like when learning there was no Santa Clause or Easter Bunny.

    Fideler’s book is a surprisingly easy to read & compact start (also see jesus8880.com for a related analysis). Also note the parallels with this older (first mentioned by Plutarch in 67 BC) religious cult of Mithras: http://www.mysterium.com/mithras.html (in the Roman cult of Mithras was a ceremony where the slain Bull was eaten in a ritual meal as associated with the changing Age of the time…much like the early Christian ritual meal [reference the Didache and even Corinthians–where the meal was an issue in that dysfunctional church, where the author chastised the Corinthian churches members for letting the poor among them starve … ponder those references and wonder, ‘if that’s how it was in the earliest days…there was no [cannibalistic] Eucharist as we know it today, so where did this ritual really come from?]

    The truth, history, is relatively easy to find and straightforward to grasp….unlike complicated philosophical treatises like ‘Contra Gentiles’ and so on….

  13. Sounds like that ‘Zeitgeist’ nonsense is being peddled.

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