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Category: SAMT

A tour through Saint Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Contra Gentiles.

April 17, 2016 | 33 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: God Is Unable To Make Square Circles

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.

This is long, but, oh my, is it worth it. I beg you will stick with it; just get over the first couple of paragraphs and you will be well rewarded. God can’t change the past, God can’t make square circles, God can’t make something simultaneously exist and not exist. Just look at all the things God can’t do!

Chapter 25 How the Almighty is said to be unable to do certain things (alternate translation)

[1] FROM the foregoing we may gather that though God is almighty, He is nevertheless said to be unable to do certain things.

[2] For it was shown above that in God there is active potentiality: while it had already been proved in the First Book that there is no passive potentiality in Him: whereas we are said to be able in respect of either potentiality. Wherefore God is unable to do those things the possibility of which belongs to passive potentiality. What suchlike things are must be the subject of our inquiry.

Notes Review, active potentiality vs. passive potentiality. Roughly, God can do something vs. nothing can be done to God. Recalling God is Being Itself, the distinction is amplified in the next arguments.

[3] In the first place, then, active potentiality is directed to action, while passive potentiality is directed to being. Consequently potentiality to being is in those things only which have matter subject to contrariety. Since therefore passive potentiality is not in God, He is unable as regards anything that appertains to His being. Therefore God cannot be a body, and so forth.

[4] Again. The act of this passive potentiality is movement. Wherefore God, to Whom passive potentiality is unbecoming, cannot be changed. It may be further concluded that He cannot be changed in respect of each kind of movement: for instance that He cannot be increased, nor diminished, nor altered, nor generated, nor corrupted…

[6] Further. Every failing is in respect of some privation. But the subject of privation is the potentiality of matter. Therefore He can nowise fail…

[10] Again. Since the object and effect of an active potentiality is something made, and since no potentiality is operative, if the ratio of object be lacking,–thus the sight sees not if the actually visible be lacking:–it follows that God is unable to do whatever is contrary to the ratio of being as being, or of made being as made. What these things are, we must inquire.

Notes Ratio of object and being? The alternate translation helps: “The object and effect of an active power is a being made, and no power is operative if the nature of its object is lacking; sight is inoperative in the absence of the actually visible [you can’t see in the dark]. It must therefore be said that God is unable to do whatever is contrary to the nature of being as being, or of made being as made.” Mentally swap nature for ratio to assist in reading.

[11] In the first place that which destroys the ratio of being is contrary to the ratio of being. Now the ratio of being is destroyed by the opposite of being: as the ratio of man is destroyed by the opposite of man or of his parts. Now the opposite of being is not-being. Consequently God is unable to do this, so as to make the one and same thing to be and not to be at the same time; which is for contradictories to be simultaneous.

Notes The principle of metaphysical non-contradiction, anybody?

[12] Again. Contradiction is included in contraries and privative opposites: for to be white and black is to be white and not white, and to be seeing and blind is to be seeing and not seeing. Hence it amounts to the same that God is unable to make opposites to be simultaneously in the same subject and in the same respect.

[13] Moreover. The removal of an essential principle of a thing implies the removal of the thing itself. If, then, God cannot make a thing at the same time to be and not to be, neither can He make a thing to lack any of its essential principles while the thing itself remains: for instance that a man have no soul.

Notes Soul? This.

[14] Further. Since the principles of certain sciences, for instance of logic, geometry, and arithmetic, are taken only from the formal principles of things, on which the essence of those things depends, it follows that God cannot make the contraries of these principles: for instance, that genus be not predicable of species, or that lines drawn from centre to circumference be not equal, or that the three angles of a rectilinear triangle be not equal to two right angles.

Notes Trumpet this to all who say theology isn’t concerned with math and science.

[15] Hence it is also evident that God cannot make the past not to have been. Because this also includes a contradiction, since it is equally necessary for a thing to be while it is, and to have been while it was.

[16] There are also some things which are incompatible with the ratio of thing made, as made. These also God cannot do, since whatever God makes, must be something made. Hence it is evident that God cannot make God. For it belongs to the ratio of thing made that its being depends on another cause. And this is contrary to the ratio of that which we call God, as is evident from the foregoing

Notes We long ago proved that nothing created God; God’s existence is necessary. Here’s what follows.

[17] For the same reason God cannot make a thing equal to Himself. Because a thing whose being depends not on another, is greater in being and other excellencies than that which depends on another, which belongs to the ratio of a thing made.

Notes Hence Satan is not God’s “opposite,” as some have it. God is not yin and yang.

[18] Likewise God cannot make a thing to be preserved in being without Himself. For the preservation of a thing in being depends on its cause. Wherefore if the cause be removed, the effect must needs be removed. Consequently, if there could be a thing that is not preserved in being by God, it would not be His effect.

Notes As the man said, God doesn’t have to do anything to keep the universe in existence; He must stop doing something for that to happen.

[19] Again. Since He is an agent by will, He cannot do those things which He cannot will. Now we may realize what He cannot will if we consider how it is possible for necessity to be in the divine will: since what is of necessity is impossible not to be, and what is impossible to be, necessarily is not.

[20] It is therefore evident that God cannot make Himself not to be, or not to be good or happy: because He necessarily wills Himself to be, and to be good and happy, as we proved in the First Book.

[21] Again, it was shown above that God cannot will anything evil. Therefore it is evident that God cannot sin.

[22] Likewise it was proved above that God’s will cannot be changeable: and consequently it cannot make that which is willed by Him, not to be fulfilled. It must however be observed that He is said to be unable to do this in a different sense from that in which He is said to be unable to do the things mentioned before. Because God is simply unable either to will or to make the foregoing.

Whereas God can do or will these, if we consider His power or will absolutely, but not if we presuppose Him to will the opposite: for the divine will, in respect of creatures, has no necessity, except on a supposition, as we proved in the First Book. Hence all these statements, God cannot do the contrary of what He has decreed to do, and any like sayings are to be understood in the composite sense: for thus they imply a supposition of the divine will with regard to the opposite. But if they be understood in the divided sense, they are false, because they refer to God’s power and will absolutely.

[23] And as God acts by will, so also does He act by intellect and knowledge, as we have proved. Hence He cannot do what He has foreseen that He will not do, or omit to do what He has foreseen that He will do, for the same reason that He cannot do what He wills not to do, or omit to do what He wills. Also, each assertion is conceded and denied in the same sense, namely that He be said to be unable to do these things, not indeed absolutely, but on a certain condition or supposition.

Notes This means the end will come someday. Get ready. And see Wednesday’s podcast.

April 10, 2016 | 11 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: God Acts Through His Wisdom

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.

Another small chapter showing the meticulousness of our saintly guide. Next week is some really juicy material: How God is said to be unable to do some things.

Chapter 24 That God works according to his wisdom (alternate translation)

[1] FROM the foregoing it is clear that God produces His effects according to His wisdom.

[2] For the will is moved to act by some kind of apprehension: since the apprehended good is the object of the will. Now God is a voluntary agent, as we have proved. Since, then, in God there is none but intellectual apprehension, and since He understands nothing except by understanding Himself, to understand Whom is to be wise, it follows that God works according to His wisdom.

Notes In modern English, apprehension is a term indicating nervousness, uncertainty, but in older usage (as here) it means to grasp, to understand, which is to say, it is an act of intellection. The word has, in effect, turned into its opposite. Not unlike many things, eh, dear reader?

[3] Again. Every agent produces its like. Hence it follows that every agent works by that according to which it bears a likeness to its effect: thus fire heats according to the mode of its heat. Now in every voluntary agent, as such, the likeness to his effect is in respect of the apprehension of his intellect: for if the likeness to his effect were in a voluntary agent according only to the disposition of his nature, he would only produce one effect, since the natural reason of one is only one. Therefore every voluntary agent produces an effect according to the reason of his intellect. Now God works by His will, as already proved. Therefore He brings things into being by the wisdom of His intellect.

Notes This is, like the majority of arguments in philosophy, a proof of the existence of an ability and not a demonstration of how the ability works. The same sorts of things are common in mathematics—existence versus constructive proofs—and these provoke no misunderstandings. But in our day, where people are only familiar with physics, the assumption that metaphysics must be exactly like physics often produces incomprehension and, in cases of scientism, incredulity.

[4] Moreover. According to the Philosopher (1 Metaph.) it belongs to a wise man to set things in order: because the ordering of things cannot be done except by the knowledge of the things ordered as to their relation and proportion both to one another and to something higher which is their end: since the mutual order of certain things is on account of their order to the end.

Now knowledge of the mutual relations and proportions of certain things belongs only to one who has an intellect; while it belongs to wisdom to judge of certain things by the highest cause. Wherefore it follows that all ordering is done by the wisdom of an intelligent being. Thus in mechanics those who direct the order of buildings are called the wise men of the building craft. Now the things produced by God have a mutual order which is not casual, as it is the same always or for the most part. Hence it is evident that God brought things into being by ordering them. Therefore God brought things into being by His wisdom.

Notes Next time somebody asks you about wisdom, quote them this: it belongs to wisdom to judge of certain things by the highest cause. And then ask yourself whether it is a coincidence that modern metaphysics tosses teleology.

[5] Further. Things that proceed from the will are either things that may be done, such as acts of virtue, which are the perfections of the doer: or they pass into outward matter and are things that can be made.

Wherefore it is clear that created things proceed from God as made. Now the reason about things to be made is art, as the Philosopher says. Therefore all created things are compared to God as products of art to the craftsman. But the craftsman brings his handiwork into being by the ordering of his wisdom and intellect. Therefore God also made all creatures by the ordering of His intellect.

Notes And so does it follow, dear reader, that since the abandonment of the end the state of art is no longer state of the art?

April 3, 2016 | 17 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: God’s Acts Aren’t Necessary

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.

Series was interrupted by Easter last week. We’re back on track now. Don’t forget to review!

Chapter 23 That God does not act of natural necessity (alternate translation)

[1] FROM this it may be proved that God acts among creatures not by necessity of His nature, but by the judgment of His will.

[2] For the power of every agent that acts of natural necessity is confined to one effect. The consequence is that all natural things always happen in the same way, unless there be an obstacle; whereas voluntary things do not. Now the divine power is not directed to only one effect, as we have proved above. Therefore God acts, not of natural necessity, but by His will.

Notes Think of a machine which goes bing! when you press the red button. The machine does so because it has no “choice.” It is made to go bing! and go bing! it does when the premises (pressing the red button, the innards in some state) are fixed. It goes bing! “unless there be an obstacle” like, say, a short in the wiring. The person pressing the button can choose not to, though.

[3] Again. Whatever implies no contradiction, is subject to the divine power, as we have proved. Now many things are not among those created, which nevertheless, if they were, would not imply a contradiction: as is evident chiefly with regard to number, the quantities and distances of the stars and other bodies, wherein if the order of things were different, no contradiction would be implied. Wherefore many things are subject to the divine power that are not found to exist actually. Now whoever does some of the things that he can do, and does not others, acts by choice of his will and not by necessity of his nature. Therefore God acts not of natural necessity but by His will.

Notes Recall “Whatever implies no contradiction, is subject to the divine power” means even God cannot do what is impossible. The rest of this little proof is lovely and simple.

[4] Again. Every agent acts according as the likeness of its effect is in it: for every agent produces its like. Now whatever is in something else, is in it according to the mode of the thing in which it is. Since, then, God is intelligent by His essence, as we have proved, it follows that the likeness of His effect is in Him in an intelligible way. Therefore He acts by His intellect. Now the intellect does not produce an effect except by means of the will, the object whereof is a good understood, which moves the agent as his end. Therefore God works by His will, and not by a necessity of His nature…

[6] Further. That God works for an end can be evident from the fact that the universe is not the result of chance, but is directed to a good, as stated by the Philosopher (11 Metaph.). Now the first agent for an end must be an agent by intellect and will: because things devoid of intellect, work for an end as directed to the end by another. This is evident in things done by art: for the flight of the arrow is directed towards a definite mark by the aim of the archer. And so likewise must it be in the works of nature. For in order that a thing be rightly directed to a due end, it is necessary that one know the end itself, and the means to that end, as also the due proportion between both; and this belongs only to an intelligent being. Since, therefore, God is the first agent, He works not by a necessity of His nature, but by His intellect and will.

Notes Much is packed into this paragraph. Note the deep teleology and its necessity in all things, a necessity which proves God’s intellect and will must be (as we have seen over a long chain of proof) at the base of everything.

[7] Moreover. That which acts by itself precedes that which acts by another: because whatever is by another must be reduced to that which is by itself, lest we proceed to infinity. Now that which is not master of its own action, does not act by itself; since it acts as directed by another and not as directing itself. Therefore the first agent must act in such a way that it is master of its own action. But one is not master of one’s own action except by the will. Therefore it follows that God, Who is the first agent, acts by His will and not by a necessity of His nature.

[8] Again. The first action belongs to the first agent, as the first movement to the first movable. Now, the action of the will naturally precedes the action of nature: because the more perfect is naturally first, although in some particular thing it may be last in time. Now the action of a voluntary agent is more perfect: a proof of which is that among us agents which act by will are more perfect than those which act by natural necessity. Therefore to God, Who is the first agent, that action is due which is by the will.

[9] Further. The same is evident from the fact that where both actions are united, the power which acts by will is above that which acts by nature, and uses the latter as an instrument: for in man the intellect which acts by the will is higher than the vegetative soul which acts by a necessity of its nature. Now the divine power is above all beings. Therefore it acts on all things by will, not by natural necessity.

[10] Again. The will has for its object a good considered as a good: whereas nature does not compass the idea of good in general, but the particular good which is its perfection. Since, then, every agent acts for as much as it intends a good, because the end moves the agent, it follows that the agent by will is compared to the agent by natural necessity as a universal to a particular agent. Now the particular agent is compared to the universal agent, as posterior thereto, and as its instrument. Therefore the first agent must be voluntary and not an agent by natural necessity.

Notes More teleology! We and God only act because of an end. Ends must therefore exist. Of course, our biology undergoes changes which we do not will, but this doesn’t imply we don’t have will. Birds fly overhead and causes changes in our visage, which are also changes in our body states, but we still have will, we still act towards ends. And so does God. It therefore behooves us to understand these ends, why we (and God) think ends are good and why they are sometimes bad. Stick around.

March 20, 2016 | 22 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: God Is All Mighty

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 fleshing out today—St Thomas was nothing but not thorough! I think by this time we’re persuaded, at least conditionally, that God is almighty. Next week is juicier material: proving God does not have to act.

Chapter 22 That God can do all things (alternate translation)

[1] HENCE it is clear that the divine power is not determined to one particular effect…

[3] Again. Every perfect power extends to all those things to which its per se and proper effect can extend: thus the art of building, if perfect, extends to whatever can have the nature of a house. Now God’s power is the per se cause of being, and being is its proper effect, as stated above. Therefore it extends to all that is not incompatible with the notion of being: for if His power were confined to one effect alone, it would be the cause of a being, not as such, but as this particular being. Now the opposite of being, which is non-being, is incompatible with the notion of being. Wherefore God can do all things but those which include the notion of non-being: and such are those that imply a contradiction. It follows, therefore, that God can do whatever does not imply a contradiction.

[4] Again. Every agent acts in so far as it is actual. Wherefore the mode of an agent’s power in acting follows its mode of actuality: for man begets man, and fire begets fire. Now God is perfect act, possessing in Himself the perfections of all things, as was proved above. Therefore His active power is perfect, and extends to all things whatsoever that are not incompatible with the notion of actuality. But these are only those which imply a contradiction. Therefore God can do all except these things.

Notes Even God can’t make an apple which doesn’t exist.

[5] Moreover. To every passive potentiality there corresponds an active potentiality: since potentiality is for the sake of act, as matter for the sake of form. Now a being in potentiality cannot come to be in act save by the power of something in act. Wherefore potentiality would be without purpose were there no active power of an agent that could reduce it to act: and yet nothing in the things of nature is void of purpose.

Thus we find that all things that are in the potentiality of matter in things subject to generation and corruption, can be reduced to act by the active power which is in the heavenly body which is the first active force in nature. Now just as the heavenly body is the first agent in regard to lower bodies, so God is the first agent in respect of all created being. Wherefore God can do by His active power all whatsoever is in the potentiality of created being. And all that is not incompatible with created being is in the potentiality of created being, just as whatever destroys not human nature is in the potentiality of human nature. Therefore God can do all things.

Note In short, since God is pure actuality, God can actualize any potential.

[6] Further. That some particular effect is not subject to the power of some particular agent, may be due to three things. First, because it has no affinity or likeness to the agent: for every agent produces its like in some way. Hence the power in human seed cannot produce a brute animal or a plant, and yet it can produce a man who surpasses the things mentioned.

Secondly, on account of the excellence of the effect, which surpasses the capacity of the active power: thus the active power of a body cannot produce a separate substance. Thirdly, because the effect requires a particular matter on which the agent cannot act: thus a carpenter cannot make a saw, because his art does not enable him to act on iron of which a saw is made.

Now in none of these ways can any effect be withheld from the divine power. For neither on account of unlikeness in the effect can anything be impossible to Him: since every thing, in so far as it has being, is like Him, as we have proved above:–nor again on account of the excellence of the effect: since it has been proved that God is above all beings in goodness and perfection:–nor again on account of a defect in matter, since He is the cause of matter, which cannot be caused except by creation. Moreover in acting He needs no matter: since He brings a thing into being without anything pre-existent. Wherefore lack of matter cannot hinder His action from producing its effect.

Note Biology was not out of the realm of study!

[7] It remains therefore that God’s power is not confined to any particular effect, but is able to do simply all things: and this means that He is almighty.

Note This completes the proof that God is all powerful, which is to say, almighty. Since all of creation was caused by God, is dependent on Him for its continued existence (in every moment), God can do anything.