William M. Briggs

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Summary Against Modern Thought: How Virtues Can Be Ascribed To God

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.

Some more easy material, but with some interesting consequences. We’re very quickly approaching God and evil, which is more difficult and fascinating.

Chapter 92 How virtues are to be ascribed by God. (alternate translation)

[1] IN sequence to what has been said we must show how virtues are to be ascribed to God. For just as His being is universally perfect, in some way containing within itself the perfection of all beings, so must His goodness in some way comprise the various kinds of goodness of all things. Now virtue is a kind of goodness of the virtuous person, since in respect thereof he is said to be good, and his work good. It follows therefore that the divine goodness contains in its own way all virtues.

[2] Wherefore none of them is ascribed as a habit to God, as it is to us. For it is not befitting God to be good through something else added to Him, but by His essence: for He is altogether simple. Nor does He act by anything added to His essence, since His action is His being, as we have shown. Therefore His virtue is not a habit, but His essence.

Notes Don’t forget “simple” is a technical term, meaning among other things not composed of parts, an unbreakable unity, outside of time and therefore unchangeable, etc.

[3] Again. Habit is imperfect act, a mean as it were between potentiality and act: wherefore one who has a habit is compared to a person asleep. But in God there is most perfect act. Hence act in Him is not like a habit, as knowledge, but like to consider which is an ultimate and perfect act.

[4] Again. Habit perfects a potentiality; but in God nothing is potential but only actual. Therefore a habit cannot be in Him.

Notes Another don’t forget: God is pure actuality; in Him there is no potentiality of any kind. See simple.

[5] Further. Habit is a kind of accident: and this is utterly foreign to God, as we have proved above. Neither therefore is virtue ascribed to God as a habit, but only as His essence.

[6] Now since it is by human virtues that human life is regulated, and since human life is twofold, contemplative and active, those virtues which belong to the active life, as perfecting it, cannot be becoming to God.

[7] For the active life of man consists in the use of bodily goods: wherefore those virtues regulate the active life, by which we use these goods aright. But these goods cannot be befitting God. Therefore neither can these virtues, in so far as they regulate this life.

Notes This isn’t the place for a detailed look, but Aquinas is again drawing (indirectly) from The Philosopher and his Nicomachean Ethics, where human goodness is defined, in a way, as habit. Aquinas is assuming the reader knows this work. See the link.

[8] Again. The like virtues perfect man’s conduct in his civil life, wherefore they do not seem very applicable to those who have nothing to do with the civil life. Much less therefore can they be applied to God, whose conduct and life are far removed from the manner of human life.

[9] Moreover. Some of the virtues that are concerned with the active life regulate us in regard to the passions. These we cannot ascribe to God. For those virtues which are concerned with the passions take their species from those very passions as from their proper objects: wherefore temperance differs from fortitude because the former is about desires, while the latter is about fear and daring. But in God there are no passions, as we have proved. Neither therefore can these virtues be in God.

[10] Again. These same virtues are not in the intellective part of the soul, but in the sensitive part, wherein alone can the passions be, as is proved in 7 Phys. But there is no sensitive faculty in God, but only intellect. It follows, therefore, that these virtues cannot be in God, even according to their proper signification.

Notes Once more, never forget we humans are a mixture of the spiritual and physical. The passions are, if you like, animal spirits, the animal part of our souls. The intellect, on the other hand, is not material. It is not made of stuff, though it surely interacts with it. And what effect do the passions have? Our saint is glad you asked:

[10] Some of the passions about which these virtues are concerned result from an inclination of the appetite to some bodily good that is pleasant to the senses, for instance, meat, drink, and sexual matters, and in respect of the desires for these things there are sobriety, chastity, and speaking in a general way, temperance and contingency. Wherefore, since bodily pleasures are utterly removed from God, the aforesaid virtues neither apply to God properly, since they are about the passions, nor even are they applied to God metaphorically in the Scriptures, because no likeness to them is to be found in God, as regards a likeness in their effects.

[11] And there are some passions resulting from an inclination of the appetite to a spiritual good, such as honour, dominion, victory, revenge, and so forth; and about our hopes, darings, and any acts whatsoever of the appetite in respect of these things, there are fortitude, magnanimity, meekness, and other like virtues. These cannot be in God properly, because they are about the passions; but they are applied metaphorically to God in Scripture, on account of a likeness of effect: for instance (1 Kings ii. 2): There is none strong like our God; and (Mich. vi.):[13] Seek the meek, seek the good.

Notes We met this metaphorical usage last week. Do not fall prey to the fallacies which arise from strictly literal interpretations of all of scripture. Likewise, don’t fall prey to the fallacies which arise from everywhere metaphorical interpretations of all of scripture, either. Nobody would make these mistakes reading, say, a book of history, but they’re very seductive in theology.

10 Comments

  1. We started with the leap that all things have a cause (never found something without a cause therefore all things have a cause) to arrive at a Prime Mover that is presumably God and now we end up with all virtues come from God who has never been proven to exist. Fun perhaps but how is this not wallowing in fantasy?

  2. How can you justify ascribing any attributes to a “God” entity in the absence of any evidence whatsoever? Isn’t this just pure speculation and/or wishful thinking?

    Are you hiding a wee pee value somewhere?

  3. Ye Olde Statistician

    November 8, 2015 at 3:57 pm

    We started with the leap that all things have a cause

    “to be caused by another does not appertain to a being inasmuch as it is being; otherwise, every being would be caused by another, so that we should have to proceed to infinity in causes—an impossibility, as was shown in Book I of this work. Therefore, that being which is subsisting must be uncaused.”
    — Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, II.52.5

    IOW, not everything has a cause. It’s not something’s existence, or its “being a thing” that needs cause. It is that it has potentials that need actualization (Aquinas), or that it is composed of parts which need to be combined (Plotinus), etct. These writers (and Plato, Leibnitz, etc.) would never say that “everything has a cause.” What they would say is that “every actualization of a potential has a cause.”

    a Prime Mover that is presumably God

    Not “presumably.” Ol’ Briggs has been going through a series of arguments which demonstrate that the Primary Mover possesses features (uniqueness, simplicity, immateriality, eternity, et al.) which in sum add up to “what all men call God.”
    +++
    in the absence of any evidence whatsoever

    A potent critique of mathematics, dude. Metaphysical demonstrations proceed more like mathematical proofs than they do like falsifiable physical demonstrations. In fact, Aquinas does proceed from evidence (like physics) rather than from axioms (like mathematics), but it proceeds deductively (like mathematics) not inductively (like physics). For example, he reasons from the fact that “some things in the world are changing.” So the evidences are such things as change in the world, the orderliness of the world, the intelligibility of the world, etc.

    Hope this helps.

  4. IOW, not everything has a cause. It’s not something’s existence, or its “being a thing” that needs cause.
    every actualization of a potential has a cause.

    So only actions have a cause but the results of those actions don’t? Word dancing again. A drunken dance for sure.

    arguments which demonstrate that the Primary Mover possesses features

    Yet nowhere is the Prime Mover proven except through extrapolation of assumption involving causes based on lack of contrary examples. A leap from “possibly true” to “certainly true”. So what’s the point? It’s like extrapolating some fictional setting at ComiCon. Fun but otherwise useless indulgence in fantasy.

  5. God can be constructed in the following way: Take all good virtues that you can find in man and project them on an allmighty eternal external entity.

    Now prove that your construct exists.

  6. Ye Olde Statistician

    November 9, 2015 at 7:09 am

    DAV: So only actions have a cause but the results of those actions don’t?

    Where do you get that? Besides, you were the one saying that not everything needs to have a cause. Now you’re kvetching because Thomas beat you to it?

    DAV: Yet nowhere is the Prime Mover proven except through extrapolation of assumption involving causes based on lack of contrary examples.

    But that isn’t the argument. For one thing, it’s a reductio, not an extrapolation. And the first premise is that we see in the world that some things are changing, not necessarily every thing. (Although, in fact, every material thing is growing older, at the very least.) Could you please disagree with the argument that Aristotle, Maimonides, ibn Rushd, and Aquinas actually made?

    DAV:Word dancing

    trans.: “I don’t understand the argument that was made, assumed that words meant something other than they did, and now accuse men dead for a very long time of changing their meanings.
    +++

    Hans: God can be constructed in the following way: Take all good virtues that you can find in man and project them on an allmighty eternal external entity. Now prove that your construct exists.

    Sorry. It doesn’t work that way. For one thing, it begs the question as regards “good.” And the almighty, eternal, etc. are deductions from the existence theorem, not assumptions used to demonstrate it.

  7. Where do you get that? Besides, you were the one saying that not everything needs to have a cause. Now you’re kvetching because Thomas beat you to it?

    Its’s a contradiction of what he said. It implies there are things the Prime Mover did not bring about. So said Prime Mover isn’t the Prime Source of everything. He is admitting some things came about without help from Prime Mover or already existed for all Eternity. So what was Creation supposed to be?

    it’s a reductio[n], not an extrapolation.

    A rose by any other name ….

  8. YOS It is a free world. You are allowed to imagine any God you like, as God is a human construct. We’ll learn later in this series that Aquinas’ construct of a perfect good God impossibly can be identical to the God of the scriptures.

  9. Ye Olde Statistician

    November 9, 2015 at 3:22 pm

    Its’s a contradiction of what he said. It implies there are things the Prime Mover did not bring about.

    Everything that is in motion [i.e., is changing]

    He is admitting some things came about without help from Prime Mover

    ??? No, it is precisely that which is changing that logically entails something unchanging as its source. It is the “coming about” that requires is.

    or already existed for all Eternity. So what was Creation supposed to be?

    Evidently, you believe that creation is some sort of initial point or t=0. But Aquinas assumed sec. arg. that the universe is in fact eternal, so I don’t see why this is a problem. (cf. http://dhspriory.org/thomas/DeEternitateMundi.htm)

    it’s a reductio[n], not an extrapolation.

    A rose by any other name ….

    …is still not a daisy.

  10. Evidently, you believe that creation is some sort of initial point or t=0. But Aquinas assumed sec. arg. that the universe is in fact eternal

    So then the Creation from No Thing to Many Things post some time ago (prehack I think and I don’t remember its title) had nothing to do with Aquinas? Seems to be a lot of back-stepping going on.

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