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Category: SAMT

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

October 25, 2015 | 4 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: The Passions of the Appetite & 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.

We’ve already got omnipotence and omniscience, but what do these imply? We start today, but do not finish, that these imply love and happiness and the complete absence of evil and hate. This argument sets things up. It is not, I repeat, the full proof.

Chapter 89 That the passions of the appetite are not in God. (alternate translation)

[1] FROM the foregoing we may conclude that the passions of the appetite are not in God.

[2] For there is no passion in the intellective appetite, but only in the sensitive, as is proved in 7 Phys. Now no such appetite can be in God, since He has no knowledge through senses, as clearly results from what has been said. Therefore it follows that no passion of the appetite is in God.

[3] Further. Every passion of the appetite is accompanied by a bodily change, for instance in respect of the contraction and dilatation of the heart or something of the kind. But none of these can possibly happen in God, since He is not a body nor a power in a body, as we have shown above. Therefore there is no passion of the appetite in Him…

Notes The human intellective appetite is the power to move toward an object of desire (or away from something undesired). The sensitive appetite is based on sense, i.e. the five senses (and if we are to believe the latest food fads, now umame). God does not have senses as we do, and so doen’t use what He doesn’t have.

Passions? The paper by King, “Aquinas on the Passions“, explains it better than I. “Passions are potencies…abilities correspond to active potencies, capacities to passive potencies…This intuitive sense is captured in the idea that the reduction of a potency to act requires a cause or explanation: those potencies whose actualization is due to an internal principle are active potencies; those potencies whose actualization is due to an external principle are passive potencies.” Later (p. 20), “The passions are passive potencies: objectual intentional states of the sensitive appetite elicited by an external principle…animals, who have no higher faculties, are clearly at the mercy of their passions.” Well, that paper is thirty-two pages long and is worth reading.

Notice God does not have senses and we have already proven that He is pure actuality, i.e. in Him there are no potencies. God does not change. He is outside time, as we have been saying. As Aquinas says in paragraph 6 “Every passion is in a subject that is in potentiality. But God is altogether free of potentiality, since He is pure act. Therefore He is agent only, and in no way can passion take place in Him.”

Okay, so why is any of this important, since we already knew all that? Because it leads its way to something deeper, such as this.

[8] Some passions, however, are absent from God not only by reason of their genus, but also on account of their species. For every passion takes its species from its object. Wherefore a passion whose object is wholly unbefitting God is absent from God on account of its proper species. Such a passion is sorrow or pain: for its object is an actually inherent evil, just as the object of joy is a good present and possessed. Sorrow, therefore, and pain by their very nature cannot be in God.

[9] Again. The formality of a passion’s object is taken not only from good or evil, but also from the fact that a person is referred in some mode to the one or the other: for thus it is that hope and joy differ. Wherefore if the mode in which a person is referred to the object–that mode being essential to the passion — is not becoming to God, neither can the passion itself be becoming to God, and this by reason of its proper species. Now although hope has a good for its object, this is a good not already acquired, but to be yet obtained. And this cannot be competent to God, on account of His perfection, which is so great that nothing can be added to it. Hope therefore cannot be in God, even by reason of its species: nor again desire of anything not possessed.

Notes So far so good. No hope and no desire means, among other things, a lack of temptation. And then the kicker:

[10] Moreover. Just as the divine perfection excludes from God the potentiality of acquiring any additional good, so too and much more it excludes the potentiality to evil. Now fear regards evil that may be imminent, even as hope regards a good to be acquired. Wherefore fear by reason of its species is absent from God on two counts: both because it is befitting only one that is in potentiality, and because its object is an evil that can become present.

Notes And there it is, at least as a start: no evil in God. But for us? well, this:

[11] Again. Repentance denotes a change in the appetite. Wherefore the idea of repentance is inapplicable to God, both because it is a kind of sorrow, and because it implies a change of will.

[12] Further. Without error in the cognitive power, it is impossible for that which is good to be apprehended as evil. Nor does it happen that the evil of one can be the good of another, save in particular goods, wherein the corruption of one is the generation of another: while the universal good is nowise impaired by any particular good, but is reflected by each one. Now God is the universal good, and by partaking of His likeness all things are said to be good. Hence no one’s evil can be to Him a good. Nor is it possible for Him to apprehend as evil that which is good simply, and is not evil to Him: because His knowledge is without error, as we have proved above. Hence envy cannot possibly be in God, even according to the nature of its species; not only because envy is a kind of sorrow, but because it grieves for the good of another, and thus looks upon another’s good as its own evil.

[13] Again. To grieve for a good is like desiring an evil: for the former results from a good being deemed an evil, while the latter results from an evil being deemed a good. Now anger is the desire of another’s evil in revenge. Therefore anger is far removed from God according to its specific nature; not only because it is an effect of sorrow, but also because it is a desire for revenge on account of sorrow arising from a harm inflicted.

Notes Don’t let this slide by “corruption of one is the generation of another”, i.e. evil is the corruption of the good. God cannot change, so that He cannot be corrupted, but we, as history and our own behavior shows us, can. One more time I emphasize, that this is not a complete proof there is no evil in God. We’ll unfold this over the next several weeks.

October 18, 2015 | 23 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: God Has Free Will

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.

Here we go, sisters and brothers. The crux. Free will, in God and in us.

Chapter 86 That a reason of the divine will can be assigned. (alternate translation)

[2] …For the end is the reason of willing the means. Now God wills His goodness as an end, and He wills all else as means to that end. Therefore His goodness is the reason why He wills other things which are different from Him…

[4] Again. As we have shown above, supposing God to will a certain thing, it follows of necessity that He wills whatever is required for that thing. Now that which imposes necessity on something else, is the reason why this other thing is. Therefore the reason why God wills that which is requisite for a thing, is that the thing for which it is requisite may be [may exist]…

Chapter 87 That nothing can be the cause of the Divine will. (alternate translation)

[1] Now although it is possible to assign some reason of the divine will, it does not follow that anything is the cause of that will.

[2] For the end is to the will the cause of willing. Now the end of God’s will is His goodness. Therefore this is the cause of God’s willing, and is the selfsame as the act of His will…

[4] Nevertheless it is clear that there is no need to allow of any discursion in the divine will. Because where there is one act, we cannot find discursion, as we have proved above with regard to the intellect. Now God by one act wills His goodness and all else, since His action is His essence.

[5] By what we have said we refute the error of some who say that all things proceed from God according to His simple will, so that no reason is to be given for anything except that God wills it.

Chapter 88 That in God there is free will. (alternate translation)

[1] IT is possible to conclude from the foregoing that free-will is to be found in God.

[2] For free-will is applied to those things that one wills not of necessity but of one’s own accord: wherefore in us there is free-will in regard to our wishing to run or walk. Now God wills not of necessity things other than Himself, as we have shown above. Therefore it is fitting that God should have free-will.

[3] Again. The divine will, in those things to which it is not determined by its nature, is inclined in a way by the intellect, as we have shown above. Now man to the exclusion of other animals is said to have free-will, because he is inclined to will by the judgment of his reason, and not by natural impulse as brute animals are. Therefore there is free-will in God.

[4] Again. According to the Philosopher [Aristotle] (3 Ethic.) will is of the end, but choice is of the means to the end. Wherefore since God wills Himself as end, and other things as means to the end, it follows that in regard to Himself He has will only, but in respect of other things choice. Now choice is always an act of free-will. Therefore free-will is befitting God.

[5] Further. Through having free-will man is said to be master of his own actions. Now this is most befitting the first agent, whose action depends on no other. Therefore God has free-will…

Notes Two common mistakes in discussing human free will, since I think most will accept what Thomas has here, at least arguendo, that God has free will. First, free will does not apply to every action of the workings of our body—and thank God for that. How hectic would it be to squirt enzymes into your stomach of just the right amount for every bite you take! And don’t get me started on intestinal fortitude. But anything which is a decision necessarily involves free will. This includes deciding to answer this argument with some (self-defeating) rebuttal. Second, that free will is an “illusion.” This is empty. Only a person with free will can have an illusion. We know there are illusions because we have free will. See also last week’s comments about contingency in the face of an Omnipotent God’s will.

The problem of “determinism” isn’t solved by running to science. I think somebody last week asked for an example of science’s shortcomings with regard to God. This is the prime example.

We’re fast coming to the crucial discussion: if God is good, and has free will, why is there evil? Stick around!

October 11, 2015 | 3 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: God’s Will And Contingency

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.

Contingency is a tricky business. And not just in theology. Science must deal with questions of contingency, too. And some scientists answer the question wrongly, especially about human free will (which isn’t explicitly discussed here).

Chapter 85 The the Divine Will does not remove contingency from things, nor impose absolute necessity on them. (alternate translation)

[1] FROM what has been said we may gather that the divine will does not exclude contingency, nor impose absolute necessity on things…

[3] Moreover. God wills the good of the universe the more especially than any particular good, according as the likeness of His goodness is more completely found therein. Now the completeness of the universe demands that some things should be contingent, else not all the degrees of being would be contained in the universe. Therefore God wills some things to be contingent.

[4] Again. The good of the universe consists in a certain order, as stated in 11 Metaph.[Aristotle] Now the order of the universe requires that certain causes be changeable; since bodies belong to the perfection of the universe and they move not unless they be moved. Now from a changeable cause contingent effects follow: since the effect cannot have more stable being than the cause. Hence we find that, though the remote cause be necessary, yet if the proximate cause be contingent, the effect is contingent. This is evidenced by what happens with the lower bodies: for they are contingent on account of the contingency of their proximate causes, although their remote causes, which are the heavenly movements, are necessary. Therefore God wills some things to happen contingently.

[5] Further. Necessity by supposition in a cause cannot argue absolute necessity in its effect. Now God wills something in the creature not of absolute necessity, but only of necessity by supposition, as we have proved.[4] Wherefore from the divine will we cannot argue absolute necessity in creatures. Now this alone excludes contingency, since even contingents that are indifferent to either of two alternatives become necessary by supposition: thus it is necessary that Socrates be moved if he runs. Therefore the divine will does not exclude contingency from the things willed.

[6] Hence it does not follow, if God wills a thing, that it happens of necessity, but that this conditional proposition is true and necessary, If God wills a thing, it will be: and yet the consequence is not necessary.

Notes How to separate secondary from primary causation? If God is responsible for creating—here-and-now, at each and every moment, and not (just) in some distant past—the entirety of the physical universe (all that is), and God is the primary cause of everything (remember Chapter 13?), the cause without which nothing else could start, how could there be contingency? Contingency means a thing that has changed or happened that didn’t have to.

Aquinas talks about plain-old necessity, by which he means absolute necessity, and suppositional, which is to say, hypothetical, necessity. It is suppositionally necessary that Socrates is moved but only if he walks, runs, or is pushed. Socrates moving is a conditional or local and not a universal truth. Things which are absolutely necessary are so no matter what, but things that are suppositionally necessary are only true if they are. Which sounds funny and is a longer way to state contingency.

Here’s an analogy, and like all analogies it suffers from being absolutely wrong. Air hockey. You hit a plastic puck and there she goes in a contingent direction. But that puck is all the while being held up by a “primary” cause from a deeper level. Your whacking it and its hitting the walls etc. are secondary causes. But those secondary causes are non-starters without the “primary” cause of the puck being held in creation, i.e. in the air. No air blowing and the puck won’t move (unless you strike it hard, which is where the analogy breaks, unless you assume your strength is limited).

And so God, using his Word, is holding everything up like the air on the hockey table, and everything then acts by its powers, which is where contingency arises. God could certainly shuffle the puck along, and might even do so on special occasions (say, miracles), but it would seem He is content to let things act as they will. Hence science is possible. But science does itself a disservice when it fails to recognize the base or true science is God’s will. At some point science must cease and theology must begin.

October 4, 2015 | 16 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: God Cannot Will The Impossible

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.

We’re deep inside contingency and necessity this week. And one good joke. Regular followers of this series will recall St Thomas was not immune of the temptation to pun. Chapter 83 may be skimmed.

Chapter 82 Objections Against The Statement That God Wills Not Of Necessity Things Other Than Himself, In That It Involves Impossibilities (alternate translation)

[7] …Likewise neither does it follow that there is changeableness. For if there is no potentiality in God’s will, the reason why, in His effects, He does not of necessity give preference to the one alternative, is not because He is considered to be indifferent to either alternative, so as to be at first potentially willing either, and afterwards willing actually (whereas He is always actually willing whatsoever He wills, with regard not only to Himself but also His effects); but it is because the thing willed is not necessarily related to the divine goodness, which is the proper object of the divine will; in the same way in which we say that an enunciation is not necessary but possible where the predicate is not necessarily related to the subject.

Hence when we say: God wills this effect, this statement is clearly not necessary but possible, in the same way as a thing is said to be possible, not in reference to a potentiality, but because it is neither necessary nor impossible for it to be, as the Philosopher teaches (6 Metaph.). Thus the statement that a triangle has two equal sides is possible, yet not in reference to a potentiality, since in mathematics there is neither potentiality nor movement. Therefore the exclusion of the aforesaid necessity does not remove the unchangeableness of the divine will…

Notes As always, recall that God is outside time. God creates time. This is why the discussion of unchangeableness. We must relate to God, who is changeless and outside time, from being inside of it. Time is change. We cannot therefore ascribe to God’s mind powers that only belong to us. These few chapters thus answer the seeming objections that “God changes Him mind” or “God is or was surprised” or “God is open to the future” and such like.

Chapter 83 That God Wills Something Other Than Himself By A Necessity Of Supposition (alternate translation)

[2] …For it has been proved that the divine will is unchangeable. Now that which is once in an unchangeable thing cannot afterwards not be therein: since we say that a thing is changed when its condition is different now to what it was before. Therefore, if God’s will is unchangeable, supposing that He will something, it is necessary by supposition that He will it.

[3] Again. Everything eternal is necessary. Now that God will some particular effect to exist is eternal: for His willing, like His being, is measured by eternity. Therefore it is necessary. Not however if we consider it absolutely: because God’s will has not a necessary relation to this particular thing willed. Therefore it is necessary by supposition.

[4] Further. Whatsoever God could do, He can do, for His power is not diminished, as neither is His essence. But He cannot now not will what He is supposed to have willed, since His will is unchangeable. Therefore He never could not will whatever He has willed. Therefore it is necessary by supposition that He willed, as also that He will, whatever He willed: neither however is necessary absolutely, but possible in the aforesaid manner.

Notes Say this one three times fast! Okay, so this is true, but unsatisfying in some sense, and will be, too, because it doesn’t tell us why God does what He does nor how. But then we aren’t God and our finite minds cannot comprehend such things anyway. Think about Job!

[5] Moreover. Whosoever wills a thing, necessarily wills those things which are necessarily requisite to that thing, unless there be a defect on his part, either through ignorance, or because he is led astray from the right choice of means to the end in view, by some passion. But these things cannot be said of God. Wherefore if God, in willing Himself, wills something other than Himself, it is necessary for Him to will all that is necessarily required for what is willed by Him: even so is it necessary for God to will that there be a rational soul, supposing that He wills a man to be.

Notes And so He did will.

Chapter 84 That God’s Will Is Not Of Things Impossible In Themselves (alternate translation)

[1] HENCE it is clear that God’s will cannot be of things that are impossible in themselves.

[2] For the like are those which imply a contradiction in themselves: for instance that a man be an ass, which implies that rational is irrational. Now that which is incompatible with a thing excludes some of those things which are required for that thing: for instance, to be an ass excludes man’s reason. If, then, He wills necessarily the things that are required for those He is supposed to will, it is impossible that He will those that are incompatible with them. Hence it is impossible for Him to will things that are simply impossible.

Notes Ha ha ha! Anyway, here’s the answer to the unstoppable cannon ball meeting the immovable flag pole or any other man-made contradiction such as God can will 2 + 2 = 5. God cannot will the impossible. And this isn’t a limitation, but a perfection. This, really, is the reason the universe is predictable and comprehensible. The next arguments amplify this. Incidentally, how many readers made it to the joke?

[3] Again. As was proved above, God, by willing His own being, which is His own goodness, wills all things as bearing a likeness to Him. Now in so far as a thing is incompatible with the notion of being as such, it cannot retain a likeness to the first, that is, the divine being, which is the source of being. Wherefore God cannot will that which is incompatible with the notion of being as such. Now just as irrationality is incompatible with the notion of man as such, so is it incompatible with the notion of being as such, that anything be at the same time a being and a non-being. Hence God cannot will affirmation and negation to be true at the same time. Yet this is implied in everything which is in itself impossible, that it is incompatible with itself, in as much as it implies a contradiction. Therefore God’s will cannot be of things impossible in themselves…

Notes Hence mathematics! And don’t think about going all Godel here. That man’s theorems are about proofs, and proofs are the collection of necessarily true premises that demonstrate the truth of a proposition. Things can be true without us proving them. What Godel showed was that men cannot prove everything without assuming; indeed, this was always plain. Axioms, initial premises, are assumptions. And these axioms, given by a certain form of induction (I use this word in classical and not modern sense), must be in a sense, gifts of God.