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Category: SAMT

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

January 11, 2015 | 1 Comment

Summary Against Modern Thought: No Evil In 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.

This post is one that has been restored after the hacking. All original comments were lost.

Previous post.

Evil is the absence or lack of the good.

Chapter 39: That no evil can be in God

1 HENCE it is manifestly apparent that evil cannot be in God.

2 For being and goodness and all essential predicates have nothing besides themselves added to them, although that which is or the good may have something besides being or goodness: since nothing hinders the subject of one perfection being the subject of another besides; thus that which is a body may be white and sweet: while every nature is confined within the bounds of its essence, so that it admits of nothing extraneous within itself. Now God is goodness and not merely good, as we have proved above.[1] Therefore nothing that is not goodness can be in Him: and consequently evil can nowise be in Him.

Notes This is partly an argument of grammar. His “while every nature is confined within the bounds of its essence, so that it admits of nothing extraneous within itself” is nearly a tautology, both grammatical and logical. Point is, accepting that God is goodness itself (as proved last time), it follows that goodness itself can contain no evil.

3 Moreover. As long as a thing remains, that which is contrary to its essence is altogether incompatible with that thing: thus irrationality or insensibility is incompatible with man unless he cease to be man. Now the divine essence is goodness itself, as we have proved.[2] Therefore evil which is contrary to good can have no place in God unless He cease to be God: which is impossible, since He is eternal, as was proved above.[3]

Notes The urge to turn “thus irrationality or insensibility is incompatible with man unless he cease to be man” into a joke is almost irresistible. But I’ll rise above my vulgar tendencies to note an important point: being rational and sensible is what separates man from brute. Being rational is part of man’s nature. Remove that nature [insert joke here] and what is left is not man. The rest of Aquinas’s argument follows logically.

4 Again. Since God is His own being, nothing can be said of Him by participation, as is clear from the argument given above.[4] If, then, evil were predicated of Him, it would be a predicate not by participation, but by essence. But evil cannot be predicated of any thing in such a way as to be the essence of that thing: for it would lack being, which is a good, as we have shown above:[5] and in evil there can be no extraneous admixture, as neither can there be in goodness. Therefore evil cannot be predicated of God.

Notes Not for the last time it is emphasized that evil is the absence or lack of the good. This must be kept ever firmly in mind.

5 Again. Evil is opposed to good. Now the notion of good consists in perfection:[6] and therefore the notion of evil consists in imperfection. Now defect or imperfection cannot be in God, since He is universally perfect, as shown above.[7] Therefore evil cannot be in God.

6 Further. A thing is perfect according as it is in act.[8] Therefore it will be imperfect according as it is deficient in act. Therefore evil is either privation or includes privation. Now the subject of privation is a potentiality: and this cannot be in God,[9] and consequently neither can evil.

Notes Don’t forget that we earlier learned that to have potentiality is to lack perfection. The example given was instantiations of circles. No real circle can achieve perfect circleness. It is deficient in being in act of a perfect circle.

7 Moreover. If good is what is desired by all,[10] it follows that evil as such is shunned by every nature. Now that which is in a thing against the mode of its natural appetite is violent and unnatural. Therefore evil in a thing is violent and unnatural in so far as it is an evil to that thing, although in composite things it may be natural thereto in respect of some part. But God is not composite, nor can anything be violent or unnatural in Him, as shown above.[11] Therefore evil cannot be in God.

Notes This argument is easy. But don’t forget a good for one thing can be an evil for another. It’s good for the lion to gut a gazelle, but not so good for the gazelle. The lion desires its good, but its good results in unhappy ruminants.

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[1] Ch. xxxviii.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ch. xv.
[4] Ch. xxxviii.
[5] Ch. xxxvii.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ch. xxviii.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ch. xvi.
[10] 1 Ethic. i.
[11] Chs. xviii., xix.

January 4, 2015 | No comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: That God Is Goodness Itself

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.

This post is one that has been restored after the hacking. All original comments were lost.

Previous post.

A short exercise (I’m traveling) showing God is not just good, like your breakfast taco might have been, but goodness itself.

Chapter 38: That God is Goodness Itself

1 FROM the above we are able to conclude that God is His own goodness.

2 For to be in act is for every thing its own good. Now, God is not only being in act, but is His own being, as proved above.[1] Therefore He is goodness itself and not merely good.

3 Further. The perfection of a thing is its goodness, as we have shown above.[2] Now the perfection of the divine being does not consist in something added thereto, but in its being perfect in itself, as proved above.[3] Therefore God’s goodness is not something added to His essence, but His essence is His goodness.

Notes God is pure act, actuality itself, which is to say, being itself. God has no potentiality. God existence and essence (as was showed earlier) are one. Potentiality (we learned last week) is to have the tendency to imperfection,rather it is the presence of imperfection (think about any real instantiation of a a circle), while being in act is a kind of perfection. Since God is pure act, He is perfect, which is a good, and thus goodness itself.

4 Again. Any good that is not its own goodness is good by participation. Now that which is by participation presupposes something antecedent to itself, from which it derives the nature of goodness. But it is not possible to continue thus to infinity: since in final causes there is no proceeding to infinity, for the infinite is inconsistent with finality: and the good has the nature of an end. We must therefore come to some first good, that is good not by participation in relation to something else, but by its essence. Now this is God. Therefore God is His own goodness.

Notes Perhaps another way to put this is that there must be an ultimate reference. If Goodness Itself isn’t God, then the good is a matter of dispute, mere opinion. And not even mere opinion, because I could have the opinion that good is not a matter of opinion. You cannot even say one thing is better, i.e. more good, than another. Goodness disappears without God. All goodness. There is nothing but brute fact. Which is absurd. Therefore God must be the ultimate comparator.

Transitivity can exist in real choices (A is better or more good then B, B better than C, but C better than A, as perceived by you), but the idea that one thing can be better than another also exists. Again, you can say that a good interocitor is one which is long. A is longer than B, which seems like good is quantitative. But it is the idea that the good exists which is at base. Long interocitors are good, and longer ones better, by definition. But none will be on infinite length. The same idea of “flaw” is present in every material thing. Only God is without this “flaw.”

5 Again. That which is can participate something, but being itself can participate nothing: because that which participates is potentiality, whereas being is act. Now, God is being itself, as we have proved.[4] Therefore He is good not by participation, but essentially.

6 Moreover. In every simple thing, being and that which is are one: for if they be distinct, there is no longer simplicity.[5] Now, God is absolutely simple, as we have proved. Therefore that He is good is not distinct from Himself. Therefore He is His own goodness.

Notes A circle hewn of wood can participate in circleness. But that the circle exists, rather its existence, is act, and to be in act is to exist, and act doesn’t participate in being, it is in being. And we earlier showed that God is being itself, and simple. Don’t forget that “simple” is a technical word here. It means lacking potentiality.

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[1] Ch. xxii.
[2] Ch. xxxvii.
[3] Ch. xxviii.
[4] Ch. xxii.
[5] Ch. xviii.

December 28, 2014 | 2 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: That God Is Good

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.

This post is one that has been restored after the hacking. All original comments were lost.

Previous post (is missing due to the hack).

Good is perfection; the lack of perfection is not Good.

Chapter 37: That God is Good

1 THE goodness of God may be concluded from His perfection which we have proved.[1]

2 For that by reason of which a thing is said to be good is its own virtue, since the virtue of any thing is that which makes its subject good and renders its work good.[2] Now virtue is a perfection: since we say that a thing is perfect when it attains its proper virtue, as stated in 7 Phys.[3] Wherefore a thing is good from the fact of its being perfect: and consequently every thing desires its own perfection as its proper good. Now it has been proved[4] that God is perfect. Therefore He is good.i

iHere is the Catholic Encyclopedia, which also provides a definition of evil.

…In a creature, considered as a subject having existence, we distinguish several elements of the goodness which it possesses:

  • Its existence or being, which is the ground of all the other elements.
  • Its powers, activities, and capacities. These are the complement of the first, and they serve it to pursue and appropriate whatever is requisite for and contributory to sustaining its existence, and developing that existence into the fullness of perfection proper to it.
  • Each perfection that is acquired is a further measure of existence for it, hence a good.
  • The totality of these various elements, forming its total good subjectively, that is, its entire being in a state of normal perfection according to its mind, is its good complete. This is the sense of the axiom: omne ens est bonum sibi (every being is a good unto itself).

The privation of any of its powers or due perfections is an evil for it, as, for instance, blindness, the loss of the power of sight, is an evil for an animal. Hence evil is not something positive and does not exist in itself; as the axiom expresses it, malum in bono fundatur (evil has its base in good).

3 Again. It has been proved above[5] that there is an immovable first mover which is God. Now He moves as a mover absolutely immovable: and this moves as the object of desire.[6] Wherefore God, since He is the first immovable mover, is the first object of desire. Now a thing is desired in two ways, either because it is good, or because it seems good. The former is that which is good, for the seeming good does not move per se, but according as it has some appearance of good; whereas the good moves per se. Therefore the first object of desire, which is God, is good.ii

iiThis is a call to review, again, Chapter 13!

4 Further. The good is that which all things desire, which the Philosopher quotes as very well said.[7] Now all things desire to be in act according to their mode: which is evident from the fact that every thing, by its nature, shrinks from corruption. Wherefore the essential notion of the good is to be in act, and consequently evil which is opposed to good results from the privation of act by potentiality, as the Philosopher declares (9 Metaph.).[8] Now God is a being in act and not in potentiality, as we have proved above.[9] Therefore He is truly good.iii

iiiPontentiality limits goodness? Let’s quote from Ed Feser’s Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction, pp 36-37:

Take the roundness of a certain rubber ball, which is actual, but in a limited way insofar as roundness as such is perfect roundness yet the ball’s roundness is not perfect (since there is at least a slight imperfection in even the most carefully made ball), and insofar as roundness, which is of itself a universal, comes to be instantiated in this particular object and in that sense limited to a particular time and place. The Thomist position is that it is only potency which can ultimately account for these limitations on a thing’s actuality…In particular, it is the potency of rubber qua material substance to take on different forms that limits the roundness…

Let’s don’t forget that the stuff around is a combination of actuality and potentiality.

5 Moreover. The bestowal of being and goodness proceeds from goodness. This is proved from the very nature of the good, and from the notion it conveys. For the good of a thing is naturally its act and perfection. Now a thing acts through being in act: and by acting it bestows being and goodness on other things. Wherefore it is a sign of a thing’s perfection that it is able to produce its like, as the Philosopher declares (4 Meteor.).[10] Again, the notion of the good is that it is something appetible: and this is an end. And the end moves the agent to act. Hence good is said to be diffusive of self and being.[11] Now, this diffusion is becoming to God: for it has been shown above[12] that He is the cause of being in other things, since He is the per se necessary being. Therefore He is truly good.iv

ivI might have left this argument out except for footnote 10, which points to Aristotle’s Meteorology. Yes, even the ancients were concerned with climate change. In that book we learn such things as “Rawness is its opposite and is therefore an imperfect concoction of the nutriment in the fruit” but also that “Consequently a raw thing is either spirituous or watery or contains both spirit and water.” Aristotle’s science observations are not terrible, given his situation. Consider “Ripening being a kind of perfecting, rawness will be an imperfect state, and this state is due to a lack of natural heat and its disproportion to the moisture that is undergoing the process of ripening.” Ripe is good.

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[1] Ch. xxviii.
[2] 2 Ethic. vi.
[3] iii. 4.
[4] l.c.
[5] Ch. xiii.
[6] Ibid., Since, however, God … p. 31.
[7] 1 Ethic. i.
[8] D. 8. ix.
[9] Ch. xv.
[10] iii. 1.
[11] Dionysius, Div. Nom. iv.
[12] Ch. xiii.
[13] Ps. lxxii. 1.

December 14, 2014 | 3 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: Nothing Is Predicated Univocally Of God & Other Things

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.

Perhaps a simple way of summarizing this chapter is that (what is not surprising) God is unlike anything else, and our language, properly used, necessarily must reflect this. I’m trying out the new footnote style here, too.

Chapter 32: That Nothing Is Predicated Univocally Of God And Other Things

1 FROM the above it is clear that nothing can be predicated univocallyi of God and other things. For an effect which does not receive the same form specifically as that whereby the agent acts, cannot receive in a univocal sense the name derived from that form: for the sun and the heat generated from the sun are not called hot univocally. Now the forms of things whereof God is cause do not attain to the species of the divine virtue, since they receive severally and particularly that which is in God simply and universally.[1] It is evident therefore that nothing can be said univocally of God and other things.ii

iUnivocally: having one only one unambiguous meaning. Aristotle: “A man and an ox are both animal, and these are univocally so named, inasmuch as not only the name, but also the definition, is the same in both cases: for if a man should state in what sense each is an animal, the statement in the one case would be identical with that in the other.”

This is contrasted with equivocally; e.g. saying “he’s tall”, “that’s a tall order” use tall equivocally. Don’t argue with me, this article is an argument!

iiIt’s obvious the sun and the heat we feel from it, though both are hot, are not the same thing. We must use hot equivocally. As we’ll see below, the things that we can say about God we can’t say about things which aren’t God.

Here is St Thomas on the same subject in Summa Theologica (emphasis mine):

…In the same way, as said in the preceding article, all perfections existing in creatures divided and multiplied, pre-exist in God unitedly. Thus when any term expressing perfection is applied to a creature, it signifies that perfection distinct in idea from other perfections; as, for instance, by the term “wise” applied to man, we signify some perfection distinct from a man’s essence, and distinct from his power and existence, and from all similar things; whereas when we apply to it God, we do not mean to signify anything distinct from His essence, or power, or existence. Thus also this term “wise” applied to man in some degree circumscribes and comprehends the thing signified; whereas this is not the case when it is applied to God; but it leaves the thing signified as incomprehended, and as exceeding the signification of the name. Hence it is evident that this term “wise” is not applied in the same way to God and to man. The same rule applies to other terms. Hence no name is predicated univocally of God and of creatures.

4 Again. That which is predicated univocally of several things is more simple than either of them, at least in our way of understanding. Now nothing can be more simple than God, either in reality or in our way of understanding. Therefore nothing is predicated univocally of God and other things.iii

iiiDon’t forget simple is a technical term here, meaning not made of parts, with no potential, etc. Whatever we can discover to say univocally about God can’t be said of anything else in that same way.

5 Further. Whatever is predicated univocally of several things belongs by participation to each of the things of which it is predicated: for the species is said to participate the genus, and the individual the species. But nothing is said of God by participation, since whatever is participated is confined to the mode of a participated thing, and thus is possessed partially and not according to every mode of perfection. It follows therefore that nothing is predicated univocally of God and other things.iv

ivA gross simplification, or perhaps a good parlor game: see if you can name of thing predicated of God which cannot be predicated of anything else. For example, “God is being-itself” which predicates the being-itselfness of God. But other things certainly have being (you do, I do), though nothing else is being-itself. Inasmuch as we can comprehend this term (which is a long way short of the fullness of it), we can only say this univocally of God and of nothing else.

6 [THIS ARGUMENT MAY BE SKIPPED] Again. That which is predicated of several things according to priority and posteriority is certainly not predicated of them univocally, since that which comes first is included in the definition of what follows, for instance substance in the definition of accident considered as a being. If therefore we were to say being univocally of substance and accident, it would follow that substance also should enter into the definition of being as predicated of substance: which is clearly impossible.v Now nothing is predicated in the same order of God and other things, but according to priority and posteriority: since all predicates of God are essential, for He is called being because He is very essence, and good because He is goodness itself: whereas predicates are applied to others by participation; thus Socrates is said to be a man, not as though he were humanity itself, but as a subject of humanity. Therefore it is impossible for any thing to be predicated univocally of God and other things.vi

vIt would be circular.

viA last emphasis. If we can speak univocally of God, whatever term we happen to use it would then be impossible to use it univocally of any other thing.

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[1] Chs. xxviii., xxix.
[2] Ch. xxiii.
[3] Chs. xxiv., xxv.
[4] Ch. xxiii.