Skip to content

Category: SAMT

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

August 31, 2014 | 30 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: There Is Nothing In God Against Nature

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.

A short entry this week, for next week we start on something bigger and of more importance: that God is not a body. Plus, this is the last hurrah of summer and many of us are not around. We could skip this, but why not be complete during the lull? Besides, I can’t see any of this being controversial, granting the previous arguments.

Chapter 19: That in God there is nothing violent or beside nature

1 HENCE the Philosopher[1] concludes that in God there cannot be anything violent or outside nature. For whatever has in itself anything violent or beside nature,i has something added to itself: since that which belongs to a thing’s essence cannot be violent or beside nature. Now no simple thing has in itself anything that is added, for this would argue its being composite. Since then God is simple, as shown above,[2] there can be nothing in Him that is violent or beside nature.

2 Further. The necessity resulting from compulsion is a necessity imposed by another. Now in God there is no necessity imposed by another, for He is necessary of Himself, and the cause of necessity in other things.[3] Therefore nothing is compulsory in Him.ii

3 Moreover. Wherever there is violence, there can be something besides what belongs to a thing by its very nature: since violence is contrary to that which is according to nature. But it is not possible for anything to be in God that does not belong to Him according to His nature, since by His very nature He is necessary being, as shown above.[4] Therefore there can be nothing violent in Him.iii

4 Again. Everything that is compelled or unnatural has a natural aptitude to be moved by another: because that which is done by compulsion has an external principle, without any concurrence on the part of the patient.[5] Now God is altogether immovable, as shown above.[6] Therefore nothing in Him can be violent or unnatural.iv


iDon’t take violent in its most common meaning. A pin in a hip to keep it swinging free is “violent” in St Thomas’s words. As the rest of this argument shows, since God is not in potential, he cannot possess anything that is besides His nature. Here is Aristotle on nature, from St Thomas’s footnote (to understand the language used if nothing else):

(4) ‘Nature’ means the primary material of which any natural object consists or out of which it is made, which is relatively unshaped and cannot be changed from its own potency, as e.g. bronze is said to be the nature of a statue and of bronze utensils, and wood the nature of wooden things; and so in all other cases; for when a product is made out of these materials, the first matter is preserved throughout. For it is in this way that people call the elements of natural objects also their nature, some naming fire, others earth, others air, others water, others something else of the sort, and some naming more than one of these, and others all of them.-(5) ‘Nature’ means the essence of natural objects…

(6) By an extension of meaning from this sense of ‘nature’ every essence in general has come to be called a ‘nature’, because the nature of a thing is one kind of essence.

From what has been said, then, it is plain that nature in the primary and strict sense is the essence of things which have in themselves, as such, a source of movement; for the matter is called the nature because it is qualified to receive this, and processes of becoming and growing are called nature because they are movements proceeding from this. And nature in this sense is the source of the movement of natural objects, being present in them somehow, either potentially or in complete reality.

Then much later, about privation, an important term:

We speak of ‘privation’ (1) if something has not one of the attributes which a thing might naturally have, even if this thing itself would not naturally have it; e.g. a plant is said to be ‘deprived’ of eyes. (2) If, though either the thing itself or its genus would naturally have an attribute, it has it not; e.g. a blind man and a mole are in different senses ‘deprived’ of sight; the latter in contrast with its genus, the former in contrast with his own normal nature. (3) If, though it would naturally have the attribute, and when it would naturally have it, it has it not; for blindness is a privation, but one is not ‘blind’ at any and every age, but only if one has not sight at the age at which one would naturally have it. Similarly a thing is called blind if it has not sight in the medium in which, and in respect of the organ in respect of which, and with reference to the object with reference to which, and in the circumstances in which, it would naturally have it. (4) The violent taking away of anything is called privation.

Also, on accident, “Accident’ has also (2) another meaning, i.e. all that attaches to each thing in virtue of itself but is not in its essence, as having its angles equal to two right angles attaches to the triangle. And accidents of this sort may be eternal, but no accident of the other sort is.”

iiNobody forces God to do anything, not even 800-pound gorillas. But you get the idea.

iiiIf somebody dents your skull with a lead pipe, he has done violence to your cranium. But don’t miss the subtle point, repeated: “it is not possible for anything to be in God that does not belong to Him according to His nature, since by His very nature He is necessary being”. A necessary being is one which must exist and in the form, or rather essence, it takes. If it were other than its essence, it would be contingent and not necessary.

ivThe note is back to the important Chapter 13, where it is proved God is the Unmoved Move, the Unchangeable Changer. God must be the first cause, and therefore cannot be done violence, nor can He be compelled against His will—and this is so despite some fanciful and overly literal interpretations one occasionally runs into.

[1] 5 Metaph. i. 6 (D. 4, v. 6).
[2] Ch. xviii.
[3] Ch. xv.
[4] Ch. xv.
[5] 3 Ethic. i. 3.
[6] Ch. xiii.

August 24, 2014 | 10 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: God Is Not Made Of Parts

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.

That God, accepting He exists based on the previous proofs, is not a composite object won’t be especially difficult to believe. Except for those who, strangely, believe God is a created (or maybe “evolved”) being. If He was, it begs the question how. And that would immediately bring us back to how anything changes, which must involve the existence of a necessary Being, which is to say, God Himself. Reminder: it simply makes no sense to say things “just happen” or happen “by chance” or “randomly.” There must be a First Cause.

Chapter 18: That in God there is no composition

1 FROM the foregoing we are able to conclude that there is no composition in God. For in every composite thing there must needs be act and potentiality: since several things cannot become one simply, unless there be something actual there and something else potential. Because those things that are actually, are not united except as an assemblage or group, which are not one simply.i In these moreover the very parts that are gathered together are as a potentiality in relation to the union: for they are actually united after being potentially unitable. But in God there is no potentiality.ii[1] Therefore in Him there is no composition.

2 Again. Every composite is subsequent to its components. Therefore the first being, namely God,[2] has no component parts.

3 Further. Every composite is potentially dissoluble, so far as its composite nature is concerned, although in some there is something else incompatible with dissolution. Now that which is dissoluble is in potentiality to not-being. But this cannot be said of God, since of His very essence He is necessarily. Therefore there is no composition in Him.iii

4 Moreover. Every composition requires a compounder: for if there be composition, it results from several things: and things that are several in themselves would not combine together unless they were united by a compounder. If then God were composite, He would have a compounder: for He could not compound Himself, since no thing is its own cause, for it would precede itself, which is impossible. Now the compounder is the efficient cause of the composite. Therefore God would have an efficient cause: and thus He would not be the first cause, which was proved above.[3]iv

5 Again. In any genus the more simple a thing is the more excellent it is; such, in the genus hot, is fire which has no admixture of cold. Therefore that which obtains the summit of nobility among beings, must be in the summit of simplicity. Now that which obtains the summit of nobility in things is what we call God, since He is the first cause, because the cause is more excellent than its effect. Therefore there can be no composition in Him.v

6 Moreover. In every composite thing the good does not belong to this or that part but to the whole, and I speak of good in reference to that goodness which is proper to, and is the perfection of, the whole: thus the parts are imperfect in relation to the whole: thus the parts of a man are not a man, nor have the parts of the number six the perfection of six, nor do the parts of a line attain to the perfection of the measure found in the whole Therefore if God is composite, His proper perfection and goodness are found in the whole of God but not in any of His parts.vii And thus the good that is proper to Him will not be purely in Him; and consequently He will not be the first and supreme good.viii

7 Further. Before every multitude it is necessary to find unity. Now in every composite there is multitude. Therefore that which is before all things, namely God, must needs be devoid of all composition.ix


iIf A is joined to B, there is A+B not AB, or rather, there is not an indivisible (new) C. If something is composite, it is in potential to being busted apart, to being A and B again.

iiDon’t forget that St Thomas earlier proved that in God there is no potentiality. Maybe it’s not obvious, but from this we deduce that God is not a “life-force”, or evolved being, made of parts. God is not an anthropomorphic being, is not made of pasta or DNA or anything material, even though he can be painted that way. God is Being itself, and Being itself is not be decomposable. Being itself cannot be painted or pictured.

iiiWe have already proved that God, as First Mover or Unchanging Changer, must necessarily exist, or nothing could ever move or change. This why St Thomas says, “since of His very essence He is necessarily.”

ivI find this very pretty. Everything that changes has a cause for the change. A composite is caused to be composite from its parts (somehow). And we’re right back at the beginning. Of course, we must never forget, not everything changes. God does not, because God is not in potentiality.

vThis extra, unneeded argument will probably sound phony, or at least fishy, to modern ears. And anyway, it doesn’t reach syllogistic proof because of the (as yet unproved) premise that the more excellent something is, the simpler it is. Simpler? To moderns, simpler is equated with stupider or that which is less useful. But to St Thomas, it is associated with elegance, beauty, sublimity. This is why he says “the cause is more excellent than its effect.” After all, without the cause, there is no effect.

viAnd here is similar language. A jigsaw puzzle can still be beautiful even though it’s missing a piece, but it hasn’t reached it’s potential perfection, or rather completeness. It may also come as a surprise to some atheists to learn that the parts of a man are not a man. But a man can have missing parts and still be a man, though an imperfect instantiation of one. A few cells which live as a man, though small, is also a man (after all, what are you but a large collection of cells?). That some objects, or people, exist as imperfections does not do away with perfection.

viiIn other words, if God is put together from pieces, those individual pieces are not the perfection—only the whole is. or could be Just like the jigsaw puzzle.

viiiThe good will not be purely in him, because the good would be in the whole which is made of pieces. The good would be in pieces too, as it were. Now this follows: “consequently He will not be the first and supreme good”. This is not a complete argument that God is the first and supreme good. St Thomas is anticipating that claim, which is anyway familiar even to us moderns (that God is Good). Thus, this also is not, at this point, another proof that God is not composite.

ixOkay, fine, But what about the Trinity? God the Father, Jesus-slash-God, God the Holy Ghost? How could God be three in one? How could a non-composite God be a man? Short answer: nobody knows. Not how. But we can know that. And we can only know things like this through faith, through revelation. Because of this, St Thomas does not concentrate on these matters, taking as his subject on those propositions which can be proved via the senses in absence of ordinary revelation.

We still haven’t close to describing God’s essence. We know he’s outside of time (eternal), not in potentiality, and not made of stuff. But that’s it so far. There is much more to come. How much? An infinite amount!

Update Perhaps this is the best ever explanation of the Trinity.

[1] Ch. xvi.
[2] Ch. xiii.
[3] Ch. xiii.

August 17, 2014 | 95 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: God Is Not Made Of Matter

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.

A relatively simple argument today. God is not made of stuff. Who would disagree? Pagans, perhaps. For example, the god of the atheists is a demiurge, a sort of superior created or “evolved” being, and therefore made of matter. But not God. What’s nifty about today’s discussion is the role of “chance”. For that, we turn back (again) to Aristotle.

Chapter 17: That in God there is no matter

1 FROM this it follows that God is not matter.i

2 For matter, such as it is, is in potentiality.ii

3 Again. Matter is not a principle of activity: wherefore, as the Philosopher puts it,[1] efficient and material causes do not coincide. Now, as stated above,[2] it belongs to God to be the first efficient cause of things. Therefore He is not matter.iii

4 Moreover. For those who referred all things to matter as their first cause, it followed that natural things exist by chance: and against these it is argued in 2 Phys.[3] Therefore if God, Who is the first cause, is the material cause of things, it follows that all things exist by chance.iv

5 Further. Matter does not become the cause of an actual thing, except by being altered and changed. Therefore if God is immovable, as proved above,[4] He can nowise be a cause of things as their matter.v

6 The Catholic faith professes this truth, asserting that God created all things not out of His substance, but out of

7 The ravings of David of Dinant are hereby confounded,vii who dared to assert that God is the same as primary matter, because if they were not the same, they would needs differ by certain differences, and thus they would not be simple: since in that which differs from another thing by a difference, the very difference argues composition.

Now this proceeded from his ignorance of the distinction between difference and diversity. For as laid down in 10 Metaph.[5] a thing is said to be different in relation to something, because whatever is different, differs by something, whereas things are said to be diverse absolutely from the fact that they are not the same thing.[6]

Accordingly we must seek for a difference in things which have something in common, for we have to point to something in them whereby they differ: thus two species have a common genus, wherefore they must needs be distinguished by differences. But in those things which have nothing in common, we have not to seek in what they differ, for they are diverse by themselves. For thus are opposite differences distinguished from one another, because they do not participate in a genus as a part of their essence: and consequently we must not ask in what they differ, for they are diversified by their very selves. Thus too, God and primary matter are distinguished, since, the one being pure act and the other pure potentiality, they have nothing in common.


iFrom last time, of course.

iiMatter can change, thus it is in potentiality, and we have seen from last time that God is not in potentiality.

iiiThis doesn’t appear controversial, but we have scarcely outlined the nature of cause. There are four kinds of cause: the formal (the form of the thing), material (what the thing is made of), efficient (what brings about the change), and final (the end or direction of the change). The material of the statue, say, is not its efficient cause. Much more on this later.

ivWe are now at Yours Truly’s favorite material. Aristotle (from 2 Phys iv):

Some people even question whether [chance and spontaneity] are real or not. They say that nothing happens by chance, but that everything which we ascribe to chance or spontaneity has some definite cause, e.g. coming ‘by chance’ into the market and finding there a man whom one wanted but did not expect to meet is due to one’s wish to go and buy in the market.

Similarly in other cases of chance it is always possible, they maintain, to find something which is the cause; but not chance, for if chance were real, it would seem strange indeed, and the question might be raised, why on earth none of the wise men of old in speaking of the causes of generation and decay took account of chance; whence it would seem that they too did not believe that anything is by chance…

There are some too who ascribe this heavenly sphere and all the worlds to spontaneity. They say that the vortex arose spontaneously, i.e. the motion that separated and arranged in its present order all that exists. This statement might well cause surprise.

For they are asserting that chance is not responsible for the existence or generation of animals and plants, nature or mind or something of the kind being the cause of them (for it is not any chance thing that comes from a given seed but an olive from one kind and a man from another); and yet at the same time they assert that the heavenly sphere and the divinest of visible things arose spontaneously, having no such cause as is assigned to animals and plants.

Yet if this is so, it is a fact which deserves to be dwelt upon, and something might well have been said about it. For besides the other absurdities of the statement, it is the more absurd that people should make it when they see nothing coming to be spontaneously in the heavens, but much happening by chance among the things which as they say are not due to chance; whereas we should have expected exactly the opposite.

Others there are who, indeed, believe that chance is a cause, but that it is inscrutable to human intelligence, as being a divine thing and full of mystery.

Aristotle says things which are for the sake of something can be caused by chance, and he gives this example (2 Phys v):

A man is engaged in collecting subscriptions for a feast. He would have gone to such and such a place for the purpose of getting the money, if he had known. [But he] actually went there for another purpose and it was only incidentally that he got his money by going there; and this was not due to the fact that he went there as a rule or necessarily, nor is the end effected (getting the money) a cause present in himself — it belongs to the class of things that are intentional and the result of intelligent deliberation. It is when these conditions are satisfied that the man is said to have gone ‘by chance’. If he had gone of deliberate purpose and for the sake of this — if he always or normally went there when he was collecting payments — he would not be said to have gone ‘by chance’.

Notice that chance here is not an ontological (material) thing or force, but a description or a statement of our understanding (of a cause). Aristotle concludes, “It is clear then that chance is an incidental cause in the sphere of those actions for the sake of something which involve purpose. Intelligent reflection, then, and chance are in the same sphere, for purpose implies intelligent reflection.”

And “Things do, in a way, occur by chance, for they occur incidentally and chance is an incidental cause. But strictly it is not the cause — without qualification — of anything; for instance, a housebuilder is the cause of a house; incidentally, a fluteplayer may be so.”

Chance used this way is like the way we use coincidence. But there is also spontaneity, which is similar: “The stone that struck the man did not fall for the purpose of striking him; therefore it fell spontaneously, because it might have fallen by the action of an agent and for the purpose of striking.”

Lastly, “Now since nothing which is incidental is prior to what is per se, it is clear that no incidental cause can be prior to a cause per se. Spontaneity and chance, therefore, are posterior to intelligence and nature. Hence, however true it may be that the heavens are due to spontaneity, it will still be true that intelligence and nature will be prior causes of this All and of many things in it besides.”

vIn short, since God is not movable, he can’t be made of matter, which is always movable.

viSuch a misunderstood word, nothing! It means just what it says. No thing. No fields, no forces, no fields, no equations, no quantum thises or thats, the absence of all entities. Now just you imagine what kind of Being could create something about of this real nothing. Only one: Being itself, I Am That I Am; which is to say, God.

viiZing! More proof that even saints can be contemptuous when the need arises. Notice very carefully that St Thomas does not ask for dialogue with David of Dinant, but is satisfied to destroy his argument.

Next installment.

[1] 2 Phys. vii. 3.
[2] Ch. xiii.
[3] Chs. viii., ix.
[4] Ch. xiii.
[5] D. 9, iii. 6.
[6] Sum. Th. P. I., Q. iii., A. 8, ad 3.

August 10, 2014 | 67 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: God Has No Passive Potentiality

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 started with a in-depth proofs that there must exist, for anything to change, an Unchanging Changer, an Unmoved Mover. We call this “entity” God. Why? To merely label this Primary Force (to speak physically) “God” felt like cheating. Why does a physical force have to be called God? Isn’t that topping it high? That’s because we don’t yet know that it’s the logical implications of the foregoing proof that insist this force is God. So far, we know the force must be eternal, i.e. outside of time. Today, we see that it must be without potentiality. Still not enough to come to God, as He is usually understood—but we have many chapters to go! Today’s proofs are so succinct and clear they need little annotation.

Chapter 16: That in God there is no passive potentiality

1 NOW if God is eternal, it follows of necessity that He is not in potentiality.i

2 For everything in whose substance there is an admixture of potentiality, is possibly non-existent as regards whatever it has of potentiality, for that which may possibly be may possibly not be. Now God in Himself cannot not be, since He is eternal. Therefore in God there is no potentiality to be.ii

3 Again. Although that which is sometimes potential and sometimes actual, is in point of time potential before being actual, nevertheless actuality is simply before potentiality: because potentiality does not bring itself into actuality, but needs to be brought into actuality by something actual. Therefore whatever is in any way potential has something previous to it. Now God is the first being and the first cause, as stated above.[1] Therefore in Him there is no admixture of potentiality.iii

4 Again. That which of itself must necessarily be, can nowise be possibly, since what of itself must be necessarily, has no cause, whereas whatever can be possibly, has a cause, as proved above.[2]iv Now God, in Himself, must necessarily be. Therefore nowise can He be possibly. Therefore no potentiality is to be found in His essence.

5 Again. Everything acts according as it is actual. Wherefore that which is not wholly actual acts, not by its whole self, but by part of itself. Now that which does not act by its whole self is not the first agent, since it acts by participation of something and not by its essence. Therefore the first agent, which is God, has no admixture of potentiality, but is pure act.v

6 Moreover. Just as it is natural that a thing should act in so far as it is actual, so is it natural for it to be passive in so far as it is in potentiality, for movement is the act of that which is in potentiality.[3] Now God is altogether impassible and immovable, as stated above.[4] Therefore in Him there is no potentiality, namely that which is passive.

7 Further. We notice in the world something that passes from potentiality to actuality. Now it does not reduce itself from potentiality to actuality, because that which is potential is not yet, wherefore neither can it act. Therefore it must be preceded by something else whereby it can be brought from potentiality to actuality. And if this again passes from potentiality to actuality, it must be preceded by something else, whereby it can be brought from potentiality to actuality. But we cannot go on thus to infinity. Therefore we must come to something that is wholly actual and nowise potential. And this we call


iRecall that to be in potentiality means possessing the capability of change, but as was proved over the course of many weeks, God does not changed. He is the Unmoved Mover.

iiThis metaphysical truth is a hammer. Note very carefully that we move from this truth to God. We do not start with belief. Speaking very loosely, God is a theorem. And I only mention this to counter to frequent, and really quite ridiculous charge, that our knowledge of God is entirely “made up” (of beliefs).

iiiAin’t that a lovely point? Remember: it is not the potential of you being in Cleveland that actually moves you there. Something actual must do that. Actualities fulfill potentialities.

ivLinger over this one, dear reader. What is necessary must be.

vThis follows from God being unchanging.

viI adore these kinds of proofs. Once you understand what a infinite regression truly implies, understanding dawns brightly. The “base” of all must be actual and not in potential. Must be. St Thomas calls this “base” God. We still haven’t felt why he does this, but we’re getting closer.

Next installment.

[1] Ch. xiii.
[2] Ch. xv.
[3] 3 Phys. i. 6.
[4] Ch. xiii.