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Category: SAMT

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

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.

March 13, 2016 | 9 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: Only God Can Create

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 proved that God can create, but left open the possibility (albeit a small one) some other being could create being. Today the proof that only God can do this. We’re very soon coming to a proof that God does not act by necessity, i.e. that He has choice.

Chapter 21 The it belongs to God alone to create (alternate translation)

[1] IT can also be shown from the foregoing that creation is an action proper to God, and that He alone can create.

[2] For since the order of actions is according to the order of agents, because the more excellent the agent the more excellent the action: it follows that the first action is proper to the first agent. Now creation is the first action; since it presupposes no other, while all others presuppose it. Therefore creation is the proper action of God alone, Who is the first agent…

[4] Further. Effects correspond proportionately to their causes: so that, to wit, we ascribe actual effects to actual causes, and potential effects to potential causes; and in like manner particular effects to particular causes, and universal effects to universal causes, as the Philosopher teaches (2 Phys.).

Now being is the first effect; and this is evident by reason of its universality. Wherefore the proper cause of being is the first and universal agent, which is God. Whereas other agents are the causes, not of being simply, but of being this, for example, of being a man, or of being white. But being simply is caused by creation which presupposes nothing, since nothing can pre-exist outside being simply. By other makings this or such a being is made: because this or such a being is made from an already existing being. Therefore creation is God’s proper action.

Notes Read “Now being is the first effect…” as “being itself, the act of existing, is the first effect…” It thus makes better sense that something in existence (say a ball) can be made this, i.e. white. Making being is making something out of nothing.

[5] Moreover. Whatever is caused with respect to some particular nature, cannot be the first cause of that nature, but only a second and instrumental cause. For Socrates, since he has a cause of his humanity, cannot be the first cause of human nature: because, seeing that his human nature is caused by some one, it would follow that he is the cause of himself, since he is what he is by human nature…

Notes More clues that only God can create the essence (or nature) of things. Since these are forms and forms non-material, we have more evidence of universals and metaphysical realism. The next argument takes this up more fully.

[7] Again. That which is caused in respect of some nature, cannot be the cause of that nature simply, for it would be its own cause: whereas it can be the cause of that nature in this individual; thus Plato is the cause of human nature in Socrates, but not simply, since he is himself caused in respect of human nature. Now that which is the cause of something in this individual, communicates the common nature to some particular thing whereby that nature is specified or individualized. But this cannot be by creation, which presupposes nothing to which something can be communicated by an action. Therefore it is impossible for anything created to be the cause of something else by creation.

[8] Moreover. Since every agent acts in so far as it is actual, it follows that the mode of action must follow the mode of a thing’s actuality: wherefore the hot thing which is more actually hot, gives greater heat. Consequently anything whose actuality is determined to genus, species, and accident, must have a power determined to effects like the agent as such: since every agent produces its like. Now nothing that has determinate being can be like another of the same genus or species, except in the point of genus or species: because in so far as it is this particular thing, one particular thing is distinct from another. Nothing, therefore, that has a finite being, can by its action be the cause of another, except as regards its having genus or species–not as regards its subsisting as distinct from others. Therefore every finite agent postulates before its action that whereby its effect subsists as an individual. Therefore it does not create: and this belongs exclusively to an agent whose being is infinite, and which contains in itself the likeness of all beings, as we have proved above.

Notes Gist: created things can only work with material (matter+energy) on hand. The next and last argument amplifies this and can be skipped. Though it does contain the neat word notman, which surely can find utility elsewhere these days.

[9] Again. Since whatever is made, is made that it may be, if a thing is said to be made that was before, it follows that it is not made per se but accidentally; whereas that is made per se which was not before. Thus, if from white a thing is made black, a black thing is made and a coloured thing is made, but black per se, because it is made from not-black, and coloured accidentally, since it was coloured before. Accordingly, when a being is made, such as a man or a stone, a man is made per se, because he is made from notman; but a being is made accidentally, since he is not made from not-being simply, but from this particular not-being, as the Philosopher says (1 Phys.). When therefore a thing is made from not-being simply, a being is made per se. Therefore it follows that it is made by that which is per se the cause of being: since effects are referred to their proportionate causes. Now this is the first being alone, which is the cause of a being as such; while other things are causes of being accidentally, and of this particular being per se. Since then to produce a being from no pre-existing being is to create, it follows that it belongs to God alone to create.

March 6, 2016 | 37 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: No Body Can Create

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 finally reached the promised discussion about infinity, or rather infinite power being required to create something out of nothing. This and next week wraps up the arguing proving only God can create.

Chapter 20 How to solve objections against creation (alternate translation)

[1] HENCE it is evident that no body can produce anything by creation.

[2] For no body acts unless it be moved: since agent and patient must be together, as also maker and that which is made: and those things are together which are in the same place, as stated in 6 Phys., and a body does not acquire a place except by movement. But no body is moved except in time. Wherefore whatever is done by the action of a body is done successively: whereas creation, as we have proved, is without succession. Therefore nothing can be produced by way of creation by any body whatever.

[3] Further. Every agent that acts through being moved, of necessity moves that on which it acts, for the thing made and the thing patient are consequent upon the disposition of maker and agent, since every agent produces its like. Hence, if the agent, while varying in disposition, acts in as much as it is changed by movement, it follows that also in the patient and the thing made there is a succession of dispositions, which is impossible without movement. Now no body moves unless it be moved, as we have proved. Therefore nothing results from the action of a body, except by the movement or change of the thing made. But creation is neither change nor movement, as proved above. Therefore no body can cause a thing by creating it.

Notes Don’t forget that by “movement” it is meant “change”. A thing can stay in place and be changed. Something must cause that change, something actual must actualize the potential. This is echoed in the next argument.

[4] Again. Since agent and effect must needs be like each other, a thing cannot produce the whole substance of the effect, unless it act by its entire substance; thus the Philosopher proves conversely (7 Metaph.), that if a form without matter acts by its whole self, it cannot be the proximate cause of generation wherein the form alone is brought into act. Now no body acts by its whole substance, although the whole of it acts: for since every agent acts by the form whereby it is actual, that alone is able to act by its whole substance, the whole of whose substance is a form: and this can be said of no body, because every body has matter, since every body is changeable. Therefore no body can produce a thing as to the whole substance of that thing, and this is essential to creation.

[5] Further. To create belongs exclusively to an infinite power. For an agent’s power is so much the greater, according as it is able to bring into act a potentiality more distant from act: for instance that which can produce fire from water in comparison with that which can produce it from air. Hence where pre-existing potentiality is altogether removed, all proportion to a determinate distance is surpassed; and thus the power of an agent that produces something without any pre-existing potentiality, must surpass all conceivable proportion to the power of an agent that produces something out of matter. But no power of a body is infinite, as the Philosopher proves in 8 Phys.[6] Therefore no body can create a thing, for this is to make something out of nothing.

Notes Here’s the key: “pre-existing potentiality is altogether removed.” Pre-existing potentiality is something not nothing. Potentials exist in a sense. Failing to understand this is what causes some physicists to speculate that creation happens in the absence of God via (say) fields or quantum uncertainties. But the latter, at least, are potentials. They are not nothing. The rest of the argument follows. Infinite power is required to bring material+energy existence into being. And to sustain it in being, since all change “bottoms out” at God, as was proved in the first Book.

[6] Moreover. Mover and moved, maker and made must be together, as proved in 7 Phys. Now a bodily agent cannot be present to its effect except by contact, whereby the extremes of contiguous things come together. Wherefore it is impossible for a body to act save by contact. But contact is of one thing in relation to another. Hence where there is nothing pre-existent besides the agent, as happens in creation, there can be no contact. Therefore no body can act by creating.

Notes “Contact”, of course, includes that by fields, i.e. the interaction of fields (or whatever might replace this concept, as unlikely as it now seems).

[7] Thus we may see the falseness of the position of those who say that the substance of the heavenly bodies causes the matter of the elements, since matter can have no cause except that which acts by creating: because matter is the first subject of movement and change.

February 28, 2016 | 12 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: Creation Is Not A Succession

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.


Chapter 20 That in creation there is no succession (alternate translation)

[1] It is also clear from the foregoing that all creation is without succession.

[2] For succession is proper to movement: while creation is not a movement nor the term of a movement, as change is. Therefore there is no succession therein. See also argument 4 below.

Notes Creation, in other words, is the beginning of time. Or, put another way, time is defined as succession. This is why it is improper to speak of what happened “before” creation. There was no before.

[3] Again. In every successive movement there is some mean between its extremes: for a mean is that which a continuously moved thing reaches first before reaching the term. Now between being and non-being which are as the extremes of creation, no mean is possible. Therefore there is no succession therein.

Notes Shades of the fundamental theorem of calculus here? Let he who readeth understand.

[4] Further. Every making that proceeds by succession must needs take time: since before and after in movement are reckoned by time. Now time, movement, and the thing subject to movement are all simultaneously divided. This is evident in local movement: for that which is moved with regularity passes through half a magnitude in half the time.

Now the division in forms that corresponds to division of time is according to intensity and remissness: thus if a thing is heated to such a degree in so much time, it is heated to a less degree in less time. Accordingly succession in any movement or making is possible according as the thing in respect of which there is motion is divisible: either according to quantity, as in local movement and increase; or according to intensity and remission, as in alteration.

Now the latter occurs in two ways. First, because the form which is the term of movement is divisible in respect of intensity and remission, as when a thing is in motion towards whiteness: secondly, because such a division happens in dispositions to such a form; thus the becoming of fire is successive on account of the previous alteration as regards the dispositions to the form. But the substantial being itself of a creature is not divisible in this way, for substance cannot be more or less. Nor do any dispositions precede creation, since there is no pre-existing matter, for disposition is on the part of matter. It follows therefore that there cannot be succession in creation.

Notes Take “that which is moved with regularity passes through half a magnitude in half the time”, which is non-relativistically true. But it doesn’t matter if it’s relativistically false, because the main point is that the movement is reckoned by time. And did somebody say evolution? The intriguing point is substance cannot be divisible. Thomas is speaking of creation ex nihilo, of course, but it’s interesting to consider the definition of species (biological, not metaphysical) in this context. One species does not share the essence of another, even though they share material aspects. One to another there is a strict demarcation, a gap.

[5] Further. Succession in the making of things results from a defect of the matter, that is not suitably disposed from the beginning for the reception of the form: wherefore, when the matter is already perfectly disposed for the form, it receives it in an instant. For this reason, since a diaphanous body is always in the last disposition for light, it is actually illumined as soon as the luminous body is present: nor does any movement precede on the part of the illuminable body, but only local movement on the part of the illuminant, which becomes present.

But in creation nothing is required beforehand on the part of matter: nor does the agent lack anything for His action, that may afterwards accrue to Him through movement, since He is utterly immovable, as we have shown in the First Book of this Work. It follows therefore that creation is instantaneous. Hence in the same instant a thing is being created and is created, just as in the same instant a thing is being illumined and is illumined.

[6] Hence divine Scripture declares that the creation of things took place in an indivisible instant, when it says: In the beginning God created heaven and earth: which beginning Basil expounds as the beginning of time, and this must be indivisible as is proved in 6 Phys.

Notes Recall the “utterly immovable” meant unchangeable, metaphysically simple, constant. Creation is instantaneous! Ain’t you amazed, as Captain Aubrey would say? Everything there is—everything material+energy, that is—all at once. Meditate on this and try and imagine—for this is all you can do: try—what kind of power this requires. Yet another reason to fear God, where I use that word in its old sense.