William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Summary Against Modern Thought: God’s Action, Power & Substance

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.

Most of these are easy extensions from Book One, with St Thomas arguing so clearly there isn’t much to say. Thank God for that. The slightly more difficult material is in Chapter 10, below. We return to science soon.

Chapter 8 That God’s power is His substance (alternate translation)

[1] WE may also conclude from this that the divine power is God’s very substance.

[2] For active power becomes a thing according as this is in act. Now God is very act; nor is He being in act by some act that is not Himself, since in Him there is no potentiality, as we have proved in the First Book. Therefore He is His own power.

[3] Again. Whatever is powerful and is not its own power, is powerful by participating another’s power. But nothing can be ascribed to God by participation, for He is His own being, as we proved in the First Book…

[6] Again. In those things whose powers are not their substance, their powers are accidents: hence natural power is placed in the second species of accident. But in God there can be no accident, as was proved in the First Book. Therefore God is His own power.

[7] Further. Whatever is by another is reduced to that which is by its very self, being thus reduced to that which is first. Now other agents are reduced to God as first agent. Therefore He is agent by His very self. But that which acts by its very self, acts by its essence: and that by which a thing acts is its active power. Therefore God’s very essence is His active power.

Chapter 9 That God’s power is His action (alternate translation)

[1] FROM this we can show that God’s power is not other than His action.

[2] For things that are identical with one and the same thing, are identical with one another. Now God’s power is His substance, as we have proved: and His action is also His substance, as we showed in the First Book with regard to His intellectual operation: for this applies equally to His other operations. Therefore in God power is not distinct from action…

[4] Moreover. Just as active power is something acting, so is its essence something being. Now God’s power is His essence, as we have proved. Therefore His action is His being. But His being is His substance. Therefore God’s action is His substance, and so the same conclusion follows as before…

Chapter 10 In what way power is ascribed to God (alternate translation)

[1] SINCE, however, nothing is its own principle, and God’s action is not other than His power, it is clear from the foregoing that power is ascribed to God, not as the principle of action, but as the principle of the thing made. And since power implies relation to something else under the aspect of principle thereof, — for active power is the principle of acting on something else, according to the Philosopher (5 Metaph.) — it is evident that power is ascribed to God in relation to things made, according to reality, and not in relation to action, except according to our way of understanding, for as much as our intellect considers both, the divine power and action to wit, by different concepts.

Wherefore, if certain actions are becoming to God, which do not pass into something made but remain in the agent, power is not ascribed to God in their respect, except according to our manner of understanding, and not according to reality. Such actions are intelligence and volition. Accordingly God’s power, properly speaking, does not regard suchlike actions, but only their effects. Consequently intellect and will are in God, not as powers, but only as actions.

[2] It is also clear from the foregoing that the manifold actions ascribed to God, as intelligence, volition, the production of things, and the like, are not so many different things, since each of these actions in God is His own very being, which is one and the same thing. How one thing may remain true while having many significations, may be clearly seen from what has been shown in the First Book.

Notes The wording for paragraph [1] isn’t smooth, to say the least, so to help there is one clarification we can try, and it is that we must always keep separate that which is from that which we know or understand. It is the aspect of our knowing that can change of a thing that exists, though the thing itself obviously remains unchanged.

15 Comments

  1. The bait and switch.

    Aquinas uses a carefully crafted bait an switch method which can also be seen in action with global warming alarmists:
    Create a basic set of thruths which everybody can agree upon, then switch to the non sequitur of world ending consequences for the non-believers, in the mean time painting them as immoral.

    I am waiting for the switch.

  2. “[1] WE may also conclude from this (from what?) that the divine power is God’s very substance.”

    [2] For active power becomes a thing according as this is in act. Now God is very act; nor is He being in act by some act that is not Himself, since in Him there is no potentiality, as we have proved in the First Book. Therefore He is His own power.

    [3] Again. Whatever is powerful and is not its own power, is powerful by participating another’s power. But nothing can be ascribed to God by participation, for He is His own being, as we proved in the First Book…

    [6] Again. In those things whose powers are not their substance, their powers are accidents: hence natural power is placed in the second species of accident. But in God there can be no accident, as was proved in the First Book. Therefore God is His own power.

    [7] Further. Whatever is by another is reduced to that which is by its very self, being thus reduced to that which is first. Now other agents are reduced to God as first agent. Therefore He is agent by His very self. But that which acts by its very self, acts by its essence: and that by which a thing acts is its active power. Therefore God’s very essence is His active power.”

    This makes no sense whatsoever. So, apparently, God is a ‘substance’, ‘very act’, there is ‘no potentiality’ and ‘he’ is ‘his own power’. Um… what? Yes, I understand that there is a lot of philosophical jargon here, but I’ve read over this about nine times now, and it still appears to me to be gibberish. I see no logic here whatsoever that I recognise, although I do see a few non sequiturs.

    Maybe what I need here is a translation into English, into something that is actually coherent. This is mind-numbingly obtuse, impossibly opaque.

  3. Briggs

    January 18, 2016 at 2:22 am

    Peter A,

    I can see your difficulty. All of these terms were defined in the Book One, which are familiar to those who have been following th ewhole of this series. Best way is to start at the beginning. Select the “SAMT” category at the bottom of this web page and surf to the beginning.

  4. @Hans Erren:

    “Create a basic set of thruths which everybody can agree upon, then switch to the non sequitur of world ending consequences for the non-believers, in the mean time painting them as immoral.”

    St. Thomas does no such thing. But this invention of yours out of whole cloth is duly noted.

    @Peter A.:

    “This is mind-numbingly obtuse, impossibly opaque.”

    The sentence “a topological space X is compact Hausdorff iff every ultrafilter has a unique limit point” is also opaque, but is nevertheless true. The cure is to read a book, not to preen as if one’s ignorance is the measure of all things.

  5. Peter A,

    Could be worse. Could be Latin inexorably flowing to the final stunning one-word conclusion which is SPOILER ALERT: finis

  6. Ye Olde Statistician

    January 18, 2016 at 8:27 am

    PeterA: “Substance” is that which (as the words says) “stands under” a thing. It is the first Aristotelian category, and the only one that stands by itself and not in another. An “accident” does not subsist in itself, but in another. For example, there is no such thing as “black” without a black thing. A human being is essentially a rational animal, and so a substance, but that he has black skin is accidental to his humanity.

    To be “in act” is to actually be something. Hence, we speak of “an act of existence” for something that actually exists. To be “in potency” means to be possibly in act with respect to something. Thus, a big, blue, bouncy ball is in act with respect to “blue” but in potency to be “red,” because it could possibly change color by some chemical reaction on its surface or because Briggs painted it while we were talking about it. But it is not in potency to be an armadillo. Hence, “act” and “potency” can be translated as “real” and “possibly real” though these don’t mean exactly the same things.

    To change from potency to act is called “kinesis” which humanists translated as “motion,” though it means much more than change of location. The meanings survive in the terms “potential energy” and “kinetic energy.” Only kinetic energy is in act, that is, can “do” things.

    Because of inertia, a change from potency to act can only be initiated by an outside force, as per Newton (and Aristotle and Aquinas, et al.) That is, only by something already actual with respect to the imparted “motion.”

    Hope this helps.

  7. YOS,
    “For example, there is no such thing as “black” without a black thing.”

    Black, like dark, is the absence of light and doesn’t require an object. It is like your claim that evil is the absence of the good.

  8. Ye Olde Statistician

    January 18, 2016 at 11:32 am

    Black, like dark, is the absence of light

    So the Oscar nominees represent only the presence of light? Who knew. If we turn off the lights at the ceremony then #oscarsowhite will go away?

    your claim that evil is the absence of the good.

    Absence or deprivation. Not “my” claim. It goes back to Aristotle and, more recently, to those who defined the nature of sin during the Christian era. And I have yet to hear of an evil that is not a deprivation of a good.

  9. YOS,
    You are being disingenuous. Shame on you.

  10. @Scotian:

    “Black, like dark, is the absence of light and doesn’t require an object.”

    This is not correct; it is because the object (walls, persons, etc.) have such and such reflection properties (namely, it absorbs light), that it appears black in our visual field.

    If you were correct we would be forced to say that invisible objects (e.g. immaterial ones) are black which is absurd. We would be forced to say that Nothing (capitalized) is black which is absurd, though it makes for a good pun.

    “It is like your claim that evil is the absence of the good.”

    Actually, it is not, for the simple reason that the claim is not a mere unqualified “evil is the absence of the good”.

  11. Ye Olde Statistician

    January 18, 2016 at 1:31 pm

    You are being disingenuous. Shame on you.

    But you said, “Black, like dark, is the absence of light.” Therefore, when we refer to “black people”, it is only the absence of light that is at issue. We also say the 8-ball is “black” and coal is “black” and so on. But are these black because of the absence of light? Or are you simply making a mechanical definition? In what was does your definition address the point that black coloring is accidental to being human?

  12. YOS,
    We are talking about the definition of the colour black not your poorly choosen example. Black and white are misnomers when applied to skin colour.

    Black is indeed the absence of light. It is the definition used by physicists and others and the point that I am addressing is that although objects may appear black because they emit no light, it does not require an object to emit no light. This is why the night sky is black. How can you possibly disagree with this?

    Rodrigues,
    “If you were correct we would be forced to say that invisible objects (e.g. immaterial ones) are black …”

    They are indeed black re my example above. You are confused by the property of transparency that allows luminescent objects behind them to be seen. You are not seeing this because you can only conceive of an object being black and therefore frame your arguments around this.

  13. @Scotian:

    “You are confused by the property of transparency that allows luminescent objects behind them to be seen. You are not seeing this because you can only conceive of an object being black and therefore frame your arguments around this.”

    I am not confused by anything at all, least of all by transparency which I mentioned nowhere, implicitly or explicitly — or at least you have not shown where the confusion lies. You even concede that invisible objects like immaterial ones are black according to your take. So for example, if angels exist then they are black. If abstract objects exist, like say, numbers in modern Platonist conceptions, then since they are immaterial they would be black. Apparently you do not see the absurdity of this — but then it is not me who is thoroughly confused.

  14. Rodrigues,
    Since I believe that this conversation is taking a turn to the absurd and I have no intention to follow, I will end this with one last attempt to explain the definition of black as the simple absence of light.

    When you close your eyes you experience the sensation of black due to the absence of light and not because the inside of your eyelids absorb light, i.e. are black in colour. The same applies to a darkened room. The objects in the room are not painted black. Black is the sensation of the absence of light and as such does not require a material object. This can be hard to understand since we are surrounded by material objects.

  15. @Scotian:

    “Since I believe that this conversation is taking a turn to the absurd and I have no intention to follow”

    The absurdity is all on your side.

    “The same applies to a darkened room. The objects in the room are not painted black.”

    But then you are equivocating two distinct situations: for objects *can be* painted black. When we say “The sky is black”, the “Chair is black”, etc., which were the examples *YOS was using*, the word “black” has the grammatical function of an adjective. Adjectives do not float mid air, groundless, but rather they qualify nouns. There is no adjective without noun, which is simply a grammatical formulation of the metaphysical fact YOS mentioned, no accident without a substance.

    As far as your scenario, the question is how should we interpret it: as *not seeing*. But then if we are not seeing, we are neither seeing black (or anything else). Because if you want to insist that we are indeed seeing something then you are committed to the absurdities I mentioned.

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