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Category: SAMT

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

March 29, 2015 | 38 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: God Is Intelligent

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.

Saint Wiki is back! But in case it disappears again, I’ll keep running links to both our translations.

Chapter 44 That God is Intelligent (alternate link)

[1] IT may be shown from the above that God is an intelligent being.

[4] Moreover. In no order of movers do we find that a mover by the intellect is the instrument of that which moves without intellect; but rather the opposite. Now all movers that are in the world, are compared to the first mover which is God, as instruments to the principal agent. Since then we find in the world many movers by intellect, it is impossible that the first mover move without intellect. Therefore God must of necessity be intelligent.

Notes Did you notice we return to Chapter 13 more than any other? Review, review, review. If, as is true, God is (ever) the first mover, then He must be intelligent, because why? Because randomness certainly cannot be intelligent and causal (think about it).

[5] Again. A thing is intelligent from the fact of its being without matter: in sign of which forms become understood by being abstracted from matter. Hence also understanding is of universals and not of singulars, because matter is the principle of individualization. Now forms actually understood become one with the intellect actually understanding. Wherefore, if forms are actually understood from the very fact that they are without matter, it follows that a thing is actually intelligent from the fact that it is without matter. Now it was shown above[2] that God is absolutely immaterial. Therefore He is intelligent.

Note Not only God’s, but our intellects are also immaterial. We are not our brains. See this review of Feser’s The Last Superstition for more detail.

Consider first that when we grasp the nature, essence, or form of a thing, it is necessarily one and the same form, nature, or essence that exists both in the thing and in the intellect. The form of triangularity that exists in our minds when we think about triangles is the same form that exists in actual triangles themselves; the form of “dogness” that exists in our minds when we think about dogs is the same form that exists in actual dogs; and so forth. If this weren’t the case, then we just wouldn’t really be thinking about triangles, dogs, and the like, since to think about these things requires grasping what they are, and what they are is determined by their essence or form. But now suppose that the intellect is a material thing—some part of the brain, or whatever. Then for the form to exist in the intellect is for the form to exist in a certain material thing. But for a form to exist in a material thing is just for that material thing to be the kind of thing the form is a form of; for example, for the form of “dogness” to exist in a certain parcel of matter is just for that parcel of matter to be a dog. And in that case, if your intellect was just the same thing as some part of your brain, it follows that that part of your brain would become a dog whenever you thought about dogs. “But that’s absurd!” you say. Of course it is; that’s the point. Assuming that the intellect is material leads to such absurdity; hence the intellect is not material.

[7] Moreover. Whatever tends definitely to an end, either prescribes that end to itself, or that end is prescribed to it by another: else it would not tend to this end rather than to that. Now natural things tend to definite ends, for they do not pursue their natural purposes by chance, since in that case those purposes would not be realized always or for the most part, but seldom, for of such is chance. Since then they do not prescribe the end to themselves, for they do not apprehend the notion of end, it follows that the end is prescribed to them by another, Who is the author of nature. This is He Who gives being to all, and Who necessarily exists of Himself, Whom we call God, as shown above.[6] Now He would be unable to prescribe nature its end unless He were intelligent. Therefore God is intelligent…

Notes The acorn doesn’t know it’s heading towards and oak: it is merely fulfilling its genetic plan. If conditions are right. If they are not, then the acorn does not reach its end. Now we know that acorns become oaks and not Buicks or octopuses. If there was no regularity, there’d not only be no oaks, there’d be no us, thus there’d be no arguments on whether teleology was real.

It’s not only acorns that move toward ends but photons in double-slit experiments, too. Those photons don’t become kumquats or icicles, but move in regular, predictable patterns—as if they had an end, which they do. Slide from acorns to photons to whatever is smaller or more basic. It will be the same story. Ends are being met. And those ends could not be caused by “chance”, which cannot be a cause. At base, there must be a first mover, first cause, that designs the ends which are met. There is no other way to produce regularity. The “laws” which govern the universe (all there is) must come from an intelligence; they cannot come from nothing or “blind chance”, which isn’t a power.

So we’re right back at Chapter 13 again. Plus, it doesn’t seem likely that most people would argue God is not intelligent (though they do incorrectly argue He doesn’t exist).


[1] Ch. xiii.
[2] Chs. xvii., xx., xxvii.
[3] Ch. xxviii.
[4] Ch. xxxi.
[5] 3 De Anima viii. 1.
[6] Ch. xiii.
[7] Ps. cxxxviii. 6.

March 15, 2015 | 13 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: God Is Infinite

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.

There are different kinds of infinity, a non-simple concept. But infinity is nothing in St Thomas’s hands. Those who know something of the history of mathematics will enjoy his arguments. See [10] & [17] in particular.

Chapter 43 That God is Infinite

[1] Since, as the philosophers teach, “the infinite accompanies quantity,” infinity cannot be attributed to God on the ground of multitude. For we have shown that there is only one God and that no composition of parts or accidents is found in Him. Nor, again, according to continuous quantity can God be called infinite, since we have shown that He is incorporeal. It remains, then, to investigate whether according to spiritual magnitude it befits God to be infinite.

Notes God is not a body, is not material; these things were proved. God is no infinite in a countable way, as, say, the integers are.

[2] We speak of spiritual magnitude with reference to two points: namely, power and the goodness or completeness of one’s own nature. For something is said to be more or less white according to the mode in which its whiteness is completed. The magnitude of its power likewise is measured from the magnitude of its action or its works. Of these magnitudes one follows the other. For, from the fact that something is in act it is active, and hence the mode of the magnitude of its power is according to the mode in which it is completed in its act. Thus, it remains that spiritual beings are called great according to the mode of their completion. Augustine himself says that “in beings that are great but not in bulk, to be greater is the same as to be better.”

Notes St Thomas is prepping us to recall God is pure act, i.e. He has no potentiality. Recall that having potentiality, which is in a way the ability to change, accounts or the lack of perfection. Only that which has no potentiality is perfect.

[3] We must therefore show that God is infinite according to the mode of this sort of magnitude. The infinite here will not be taken in the sense of privation, as in the case of dimensive or numerical quantity. For this quantity is of a nature to have a limit, so that such things are called infinites according as there is removed from them the limits they have by nature; which means that in their case the infinite designates an imperfection. But in God the infinite is understood only in a negative way, because there is no terminus or limit to His perfection: He is supremely perfect. It is thus that the infinite ought to be attributed to God.

[4] For everything that according to its nature is finite is determined to the nature of some genus. God, however, is not in any genus; His perfection, as was shown above, rather contains the perfections of all the genera. God is, therefore, infinite.

Notes God Is Not In A Genus: “Whatever is in a genus differs as to being from the other things contained in the same genus: otherwise a genus would not be predicated of several things.” Etc.

[6] …Furthermore, in reality we find something that is potency alone, namely, prime matter, something that is act alone, namely, God, as was shown above, and something that is act and potency, namely, the rest of things. But, since potency is said relatively to act, it cannot exceed act either in a particular case or absolutely. Hence, since prime matter is infinite in its potentiality, it remains that God, Who is pure act, is infinite in His actuality.

Notes Prime matter is a sort of goo from which all form has been removed. Formless building (shapeless, as it were) blocks of the universe; prime matter can become, i.e. be formed, into anything—though there is much more to it (see here for example).

[7] Moreover, an act is all the more perfect by as much as it has less of potency mixed with it. Hence, every act with which potency is mixed is terminated in its perfection. But, as was shown above, God is pure act without any potency. He is, therefore, infinite.

Notes An analogy. Perhaps it helps to think of perfection as a ratio of act to potential, and as potential progresses to the limit of 0, the ratio jumps to infinity. Again, an analogy.

[9] …Then, too, what has a certain perfection is the more perfect as it participates in that perfection more fully. But there cannot be a mode of perfection, nor is one thinkable, by which a given perfection is possessed more fully than it is possessed by the being that is perfect through its essence and whose being is its goodness. In no way, therefore, is it possible to think of anything better or more perfect than God. Hence, God is infinite in goodness.

Notes Recall that God’s essence and existence are one. The limit analogy is useful here, too.

[10] Our intellect, furthermore, extends to the infinite in understanding; and a sign of this is that, given any finite quantity, our intellect can think of a greater one. But this ordination of the intellect would be in vain unless an infinite intelligible reality existed. There must, therefore, be some infinite intelligible reality, which must be the greatest of beings. This we call God. God is, therefore, infinite.

Notes All will accept the first premise, but the second? This states a moderate realist and not a nominalist or Platonic view, a view which is being taken up (again) in mathematics, notably by Jim Franklin and others. And by you, dear reader, if you’ve ever used mathematics to understand the real world. Best short introduction here (pdf): “The neglect of epistemology accounts for two strange absences in the philosophy of mathematics: understanding (and mathematics is where one first goes to experience pure understanding) and measurement (the primary way in which mathematics joins to the world).”

[11] Again, an effect cannot transcend its cause. But our intellect can be only from God, Who is the first cause of all things. Our intellect, therefore, cannot think of anything greater than God. If, then, it can think of something greater than every finite thing, it remains that God is not finite.

Notes Don’t forget our intellect is not material. We are not our brains. And if not material, it has to come from something. St Thomas tackles this argument in the next chapter (next week for us, so belay questions for now).

[12] There is also the argument that an infinite power cannot reside in a finite essence. For each thing acts through its form, which is either its essence or a part of the essence, whereas power is the name of a principle of action. But God does not have a finite active power. For He moves in an infinite time, which can be done only by an infinite power, as we have proved above. It remains, then, that God’s essence is infinite…

[15] Each thing, moreover, is more enduring according as its cause is more efficacious. Hence, that being whose duration is infinite must have been from a cause of infinite efficaciousness. But the duration of God is infinite, for we have shown above that He is eternal. Since, then, He has no other cause of His being than Himself, He must be infinite…

Note A sweet little argument. Don’t forget eternal means, essentially, outside time.

[17] The sayings of the most ancient philosophers are likewise a witness to this truth. They all posited an infinite first principle of things, as though compelled by truth itself. Yet they did not recognize their own voice. They judged the infinity of the first principle in terms of discrete quantity, following Democritus, who posited infinite atoms as the principles of things, and also Anaxagoras, who posited infinite similar parts as the principles of things. Or they judged infinity in terms of continuous quantity, following those who posited that the first principle of all things was some element or a confused infinite body. But, since it was shown by the effort of later philosophers that there is no infinite body, given that there must be a first principle that is in some way infinite, we conclude that the infinite which is the first principle is neither a body nor a power in a body.

Notes St Thomas means to quote Aristotle (here, Section IV):

Belief in the existence of the infinite comes mainly from five considerations:

(1) From the nature of time-for it is infinite.

(2) From the division of magnitudes-for the mathematicians also use the notion of the infinite.

(3) If coming to be and passing away do not give out, it is only because that from which things come to be is infinite.

(4) Because the limited always finds its limit in something, so that there must be no limit, if everything is always limited by something different from itself.

(5) Most of all, a reason which is peculiarly appropriate and presents the difficulty that is felt by everybody-not only number but also mathematical magnitudes and what is outside the heaven are supposed to be infinite because they never give out in our thought.

Aristotle also says, “Also, if void and place are infinite, there must be infinite body too, for in the case of eternal things what may be must be.” If the universe was already infinitely old, we wouldn’t be here.

March 1, 2015 | 5 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: That God Is One II

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.

Finishing the God is one argument this week. Many words, but boy do they flow. If you’ve been following the discussion, this should be a breeze. But if not, review the subjects of essence and existence, and recall the in God they are the same.

Chapter 42 That God is One Two (as in Part two)

[9] Furthermore, given two gods that are posited as agreeing in the necessity of being, either that in which they differ is in some way required for the completion of their necessity of being, or it is not. If it is not, then it is something accidental, because that which accrues to a thing without contributing to its being is an accident. Hence, this accident has a cause, which is, consequently, either the essence of the necessary being or something else. If its essence, then, since the necessity itself of being is its essence, as is evident from what was said above, the necessity of being will be the cause of that accident. But the necessity of being is found in both gods. Therefore, both will have that accident, and thus will not be distinguished with reference to it. If, however, the cause of the accident is something else, it follows that, unless that something else existed, this accident would not exist; and unless this accident existed, the aforesaid distinction would not exist. Therefore, unless that something else existed, these two supposed necessary beings would not be two but one. Therefore, the proper being of each depends on the other, and thus neither of them is through itself a necessary being…

[11] It is, therefore, not possible to posit many beings of which each is through itself a necessary being.

Notes In other words, it isn’t and can’t be turtles all the way down, which each one giving something to another which the other doesn’t have.

[12] What is more, if there are two gods, either the name God is predicated of both univocally, or equivocally. If equivocally, this is outside our present purpose. Nothing prevents any given thing from being equivocally named by any given name, provided we admit the usage of those who express the name. But if it be used univocally, it must be predicated of both according to one notion, which means that, in notion, there must be in both one nature. Either, therefore, this nature is in both according to one being, or according to a being that is other in each case. If according to one, there will not be two gods, but only one, since there cannot be one being for two things that are substantially distinguished. If each has its own being, therefore in neither being will the quiddity be its being. Yet this must be posited in God, as we have proved. Therefore, neither of these two beings is what we understand by the name God. It is, therefore, impossible to posit two gods…

Notes Shorter version: since God’s existence and essence are one, as previously proved, to say there are two (or more) gods is to speak equivocally.

[13] …therefore there cannot be several beings of which each is a necessary being. It is, consequently, impossible that there be several gods.

[15] Furthermore, either the nature signified by the name God is individuated through itself in this God, or it is individuated through something else. If through something else, composition must result. If through itself, then it cannot possibly belong to another, since the principle of individuation cannot be common to several, It is impossible, therefore, that there be several gods.

[16] If, again, there are several gods, the nature of the godhead cannot be numerically one in two of them. There must, therefore, be something distinguishing the divine nature in this and in that god. But this is impossible, because, as we have shown above, the divine nature receives the addition neither of essential differences nor of accidents. Nor yet is the divine nature the form of any matter, to be capable of being divided according to the division of matter. It is impossible, therefore, that there be two gods.

Notes Of course, this follows even if you’re not yet convinced God exists. And if you are not yet convinced, you need to go back and re-read especially Chapter 13. And the material proving God is pure act, actuality only, and in Him there is no potential or accidents (if you like, parts that are not essential).

[17] Then, too, the proper being of each thing is only one. But God is His being, as we have shown. There can, therefore, be only one God…

[19] Furthermore, we notice in each genus that multitude proceeds from some unity. This is why in every genus there is found a prime member that is the measure of all the things found in that genus. In whatever things, therefore, we find that there is an agreement in one respect, it is necessary that this depend upon one source. But all things agree in being. There must, therefore, be only one being that is the source of all things. This is God.

[20] Again, in every rulership he who rules desires unity. That is why among the forms of rulership the main one is monarchy or kingship. So, too, for many members there is one head, whereby we see by an evident sign that he to whom rulership belongs should have unity. Hence, we must admit that God, Who is the cause of all things, is absolutely one…

Notes This is St Thomas being complete. I don’t think these last arguments are convincing on their own. [19] relies on earlier material on being-in-act, and where that ultimately arises. [20] seems to be missing premises about what God is up to. But, of course, we don’t need either of these two and have enough both from last week and this to prove (with certainty) there is only one God who is the ground of all being, the Unmoved Mover, etc.

February 15, 2015 | 8 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: That God Is One I

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.

Hotting up this week. A more contentious argument! St Thomas knows this and builds slowly. So shall we, by breaking up the chapter over two weeks.

Chapter 42 That God is One

[1] From what has been shown it is evident that God is one.

[2] For it is not possible that there be two highest goods, since that which is said by superabundance is found in only one being. But God, as we have shown, is the highest good. God is, therefore, one.

[3] Again, it has been shown that God is absolutely perfect, lacking no perfection. If, then, there are many gods, there must be many such perfect beings. But this is impossible. For, if none of these perfect beings lacks some perfection, and does not have any admixture of imperfection, which is demanded for an absolutely perfect being, nothing will be given in which to distinguish the perfect beings from one another. It is impossible, therefore, that there be many gods.

Notes Argument [3] is delightful. And it shows, albeit indirectly, that all those religious systems peopled with multitudes of gods must (as they of course do) acknowledge their gods fall short of perfection, and that even this demi-dieties must look to something higher than themselves. And this higher thing can only be God.

[4] Again, that which is accomplished adequately through one supposition is better done through one than through many. But the order of things is the best it can be, since the power of the first cause does not fail the potency in things for perfection. Now, all things are sufficiently fulfilled by a reduction to one first principle. There is, therefore, no need to posit many principles.

Notes I’ve lost the link to an article which shows that Ockham is not the originator of his razor. If I rediscover it, I’ll put it here.

[5] Moreover, it is impossible that there be one continuous and regular motion from many movers. For, if they move together, none of them is a perfect mover, but all together rather take the place of one perfect mover. This is not befitting in the first mover, for the perfect is prior to the imperfect. If, however, they do not move together, each of them at times moves and at times does not. It follows from this that motion is neither continuous nor regular. For a motion that is continuous and one is from one mover. Furthermore, a mover that is not always moving is found to move irregularly, as is evident among lesser movers among whom a violent motion is stronger in the beginning and weaker at the end, whereas a natural motion proceeds conversely. But, as the philosophers have proved, the first motion is one and continuous. Therefore, its first mover must be one.

[6] Furthermore, a corporeal substance is ordered to a spiritual substance as to its good. For there is in the spiritual substance a fuller goodness to which the corporeal substance seeks to liken itself, since whatever exists desires the best so far as this is possible. But all the motions of the corporeal creature are seen to be reduced to one first motion, beyond which there is no other first motion that is not in some way reduced to it. Therefore, outside the spiritual substance that is the end of the first motion, there is none that is not reduced to it. But this is what we understand by the name of God. Hence, there is only one God.

Notes Once more, I beg you will review Chapter 13. Motion means change, and the start of every here-and-now change must have an impetus. This is God. Thomas emphasizes that they’re cannot be two or more first causes. Since there can only be one, it must be God, who is one.

[7] Among all the things that are ordered to one another, furthermore, their order to one another is for the sake of their order to something one; just as the order of the parts of an army among themselves is for the sake of the order of the whole army to its general. For that some diverse things should be united by some relationship cannot come about from their own natures as diverse things, since on this basis they would rather be distinguished from one another. Nor can this unity come from diverse ordering causes, because they could not possibly intend one order in so far as among themselves they are diverse. Thus, either the order of many to one another is accidental, or we must reduce it to some one first ordering cause that orders all other things to the end it intends. Now, we find that all the parts of this world are ordered to one another according as some things help some other things. Thus, lower bodies are moved by higher bodies, and these by incorporeal substances, as appears from what was said above. Nor is this something accidental, since it takes place always or for the most part. Therefore, this whole world has only one ordering cause and governor. But there is no other world beyond this one. Hence, there is only one governor for all things, whom we call God.

Notes Take time to digest this. It doesn’t quite stand on its own but is a sort of corollary to the prime mover argument (Chapter 13 again). It still holds if we are part of a “multiverse” or whatever. Something has to be at the base of all. That is, if there is an ordering, there must be a hierarchy which is objective. That hierarchy must have an end and (to make it short) this is God.

[8] Then, too, if there are two beings of which both are necessary beings, they must agree in the notion of the necessity of being. Hence, they must be distinguished by something added either to one of them only, or to both. This means that one or both of them must be composite. Now, as we have shown, no composite being is through itself a necessary being. It is impossible therefore that there be many beings of which each is a necessary being. Hence, neither can there be many gods.

Notes Simple! But what about this whole Trinity (get it? get it?) thing? We come to it, but a way down the road.