Thursday, March 6, 2014

Does God have any features beyond his essence?


1. St. Thomas next asks whether there are any accidents in God. This article is important because much of the treatise on the divine essence and operations concerns the attributes of God, and so it is crucial to determine in advance what sort of relation these attributes have to God's essence.

2. In support of the idea that there are accidents in God, he gives two arguments.  First, that what is the accident of one thing cannot be the substance of another. This is because it belongs to accidents to exist in another, and not to subsist independently. But in humans, wisdom, providence, etc. are accidents. Therefore in God they must also be accidents.

3. Second, he appeals to the rule that every genus has a first principle. I.e., every natural kind has a prime exemplar. But if the prime exemplars of various accidental forms are not in God, then they would have to be in other primal beings independent of God, which, he says, is unfitting.

4. For the Sed Contra, he cites Boethius: what is simple in form cannot be a subject. To be a subject is to be host to accidental forms. God is simple, and therefore therefore cannot have accidents.

5. The reader may not be familiar with the language of subject and accident. An accident, or accidental form, is a act or perfection superadded to a thing's substantial form or it's essence.  It is something distinct from the bareness of "what it is to be this sort of thing" which adds to this individual's act of being, or flows from the essence of the thing, without transforming it into a different kind of thing. The subject is the individual that receives these accidental forms.

6. In the corpus, he lays down three arguments against the idea that there are accidents in God.  First, because accidents are present in a subject as added perfections, as actualizations of a potency in the subject.

7. Second, because existence itself (ipsum esse) cannot have anything adjoined to it, just as, though particular hot things can be colored, heat itself is nothing but heat.  God is existence itself, however, and thus cannot have any accidents adjoined to him.

8. Third, because everything essential in a thing (per se) is prior to what is accidental (per accidens).  Since God is the first being, simply speaking, it is impossible for there to be any accidents in him, because nothing is caused in God (since he is first cause), whereas accidents are caused by the subject in which they inhere.

9. To the first objection, he replies that virtue, wisdom, etc. are predicated of God analogically, and not univocally.

10. To the second, he says that while God is not the first in any genus, he is the first principle of all being, which exceeds every genus.  Thus accidental forms have a first principle, but it is outside of their genera, and outside the category of “accident”.

Outline of Article:

– What is accidental in one does not subsist in another.
– There must be a subject in which the first principles of all genera inhere.

Sed Contra
– A simple form cannot be a subject.

– Accidents are to Subjects as Act is to Potency.
– Being itself is simply being, just as heat itself could not also be “red”.
– Essence is prior to accidents, and thus accidents are caused.

– We speak of the divine attributes analogically.
– God is the first principle which exceeds any genus.

Is God a kind of thing?


1. Having established that God is neither a body, nor made of anything, nor an instance of some species, nor something in which existence is accidental, Thomas next inquires whether God falls into any kind or genus.

2. In support of the view that God belongs to a community of kinds with creatures, St. Thomas raises two objections.  First, he observes that God is a self-subsistent being, which is the definition of substance, which is one of the categories of being, i.e. a genus of things.

3. Second, he cites Averroes to the effect that God is the “measure of all substances”, and observes that what is measured can only be measured by something of the same kind.

4. For the Sed Contra, Thomas notes that nothing is prior to God, either in the intellect or in reality. But genera are intellectually prior to what is contained in them, since the contents of a genus are specifications of the generic form according to a difference. Therefore God is not in a genus, because if he were, he would properly be thought of as the specification or actualization of a generic form.

5. In the corpus, he first distinguishes two ways in which a thing can be said to be contained in a genus.  The first way is properly, as species fall under genera.  The second is analogically, as principles or privations ultimately reducible to a genus.

6.  Against the notion that God is a species, he proposes three arguments: first, because a species is related to its genus as act to potency, i.e. the species is the actualization of a generic form according to a specific difference.  But God is not the actualization of any prior form.

7. Second, because the genus of a thing is based on its essence, and God’s essence is “being”, it would follow that he would be in the genus “being”.  But “being” cannot be a genus, because every proper genus is divisible into species by something outside of it.  But no qualities or forms exist outside of “being” that could divide it.  Therefore, since the genus to which he would belong cannot be a genus, it follows that God is not in a genus.

8. Third, because among the members of a genus there is a real community of form, which is actualized differently in the different individuals.  Thus in the members of any genus there must be a difference between essence and existence, since the essence is the basis of the community, and the existence the basis of the distinction.  But in God there is no distinction between essence and existence, as was shown in the previous article.  Thus God is not in a genus.

9. Thomas pauses at this point to observe that because he is not a species or member of a genus, God cannot be defined, since the principles of a thing’s definition are its genus and difference.

10. As for being a principle reducible to some genus, St. Thomas points out that no principle which is reducible to a genus (e.g. “unity” to the genus of “discrete quantity”) extends beyond its genus.  It seems that by "principle reducible to a genus", Thomas means the sorts of constitutive parts of a genus that, while not subsistent individuals, are still capable of dividing the genus.  Thus a point has no substance, but it is the principle which determines and divides a line, in a way analogous to, but different from the way species divide and determine proper genera.

11. God, however, is the cause of the genus of being, and therefore can't be contained in it in this way.

12. In response to the first objection Thomas clarifies that substance signifies not only a subsistent essence, I.e. one that exists in its own right, nor existence as such, but an essence which exists, but which is distinct from its own existence.  Thus God is not in the genus of substance.

13. To the second objection, he replies that while God is not proportionate to any creature, as "measures" normally are, still he can be called the measure of all that exists because everything that is exists only insofar as it is like God.

Outline of Article

– God subsists in himself and is therefore in the genus of substance.
– God is the measure of all things, and therefore must be of one kind with them.

Sed Contra
– Genera are logically prior to species, but nothing is prior to God.

– God cannot be in a genus properly speaking, as a species, for three reasons: first because the species is the actualization of a potency in the genus; second, because God would have to be in the genus “being”, which cannot be a genus; third, because there cannot be a community of form between members of a genus without there being a difference between the individual act of being and the common essence.
– God cannot be reducible to a genus, as a principle or privation (“the unit” to discrete quantity, or “the unextended” to a continuous line), because such things do not exceed the genera which they constitute and divide, whereas God is the cause of the genus of being, and therefore cannot be contained in it in this way.

– Properly speaking, a substance is an essence which possesses the act of existing, in itself, but not of itself.
– God is the measure of all things only insofar as to be is to be like God.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Is God's existence accidental to who he is?


1. The fourth article of this question concerns the identity of essence and esse (“to be”, the act of being) in God. This article is magnificent.

2. Against the identity of essence and existence in God, Thomas offers two objections. The first is that if God were merely the act of existing, then in God there would be nothing super-added to the act of being.  But in creatures, the mere act of being without any added characteristics is referred to as “esse commune”, or “the common act of being”, which is predicated of everything that exists.  In this case, God would simply be “existence” in general, and everything could be said to be God, inasmuch as everything exists. But scripture manifestly contradicts such a notion, as for example, when it says that the name of God cannot be rightly applied to stones and wood.

3. The second objection is from the possibility of different kinds of knowledge of God.  If essence and existence were the same in God, then to know the one would be to know the other.  But while we can prove that God exists, we cannot know the divine essence in this life, so the two must be distinct.

4. For the Sed Contra, he cites St. Hilary.

5. In the Corpus, he offers three arguments for the identity of essence and existence in God. Each of these arguments is profoundly illuminating.  The first is from the relationship between a thing’s qualities and its essence.  Whatever qualities are in a thing must either be a part of its essence, must flow from its essence, or must arise accidentally from some other external cause.  He uses the example of laughter in man.  A man incapable of laughter would not be inhuman by that fact, as for example a man without a rational soul would be, but ordinarily the ability to laugh flows from the essential characteristics of humanity.  But if a man goes outside in midwinter and stands still for an hour, you may find that his hands are cold.  This coldness of the hands is neither essential to his humanity, nor an accidental manifestation of his humanity, but an accident brought about by the influence of his cold surroundings.

6. Thomas points out that if the existence of a thing is distinct from its essence, then it must be either in the second or third category.  I.e., existence must either flow from the essence of a thing, or be brought about in it by some exterior agent.  But the former possibility is absurd, since an essence without existence cannot bring about that existence—what does not have the act of being cannot supply it of itself.  Therefore, if a thing’s existence is distinct from its essence, then its existence must be caused by another agent.  But as was shown above (cf. the second way), God is the first efficient cause.  Therefore it is impossible that his existence is caused by another.  So it must be identical with his essence.

7. Second, he argues that the act of being is what makes any form or essence actual, since if a thing’s essence and its existence are distinct, the essence, without the act of being, is merely a possibility.  Thus, among things in which essence and existence are distinct, the essence is a kind of potency brought into act by the act of being.  But in God there is no potency, as has been mentioned elsewhere, so this cannot be true of him.  Therefore essence and existence must be the same in him.

8. Third, he says that what has being but is not itself being, exists by participation.  But since God does not participate in or receive his form from any higher being, he must not simply “have” existence from another (cf. the fourth way), but be his own existence.

9. In Thomas’s reply to the first objection, he distinguishes two ways in which a thing can have nothing added to it: first, inasmuch as its essence by definition excludes any addition (as “irrational animal” excludes the addition of rationality); second, inasmuch as its essence is left indeterminate (as “animal” is left unspecified as to its rationality).  God’s existence, he says, has nothing added to it in the former way: it is already fully determined.  Common existence has nothing added to it in the latter way: as totally undetermined.

10. To the second objection, he replies that “to be” may be said in either of two ways: in one way it is the determinate act of a particular essence, in another way it reflects the intellectual conjunction of subject and predicate.  We know that God exists only in the second way.

11. This reply is rather odd, because it seems to leave open the question, “What ‘being’ is being predicated of God in the statement ‘God is’?” It cannot be esse commune, because God’s act of being is distinct from universal being, as has already been discussed.  But neither can it be God’s own proper act of being, which we are incapable of knowing.  The solution, it seems, is to add another distinction: between primitive conception of being in the intellect, and the actual being of things. That “God exists” may at first seem to place God in the class of beings that are, i.e. ens commune, is not problem once we realize the distinction between ipsum esse and esse commune.  However, our affirmation of God’s existence can still be held true, even if he is only said to “exist” through analogy. A full discussion of this problem will be reserved to qq.12-13.

Outline of Article

—Mere “being” with nothing added to it is common to all things, so that if God were mere “being”, God would be everything.
—If God’s being and essence were identical, to know one would be to know the other.  But the latter can be known, while the former cannot.

—Features distinct from a thing’s essence are either caused by the essence or caused by some other agent.  God’s existence cannot be caused by another agent.  But existence cannot be supplied by a non-existing essence.  Therefore in God, existence and essence are one.
—Essence is to potency as Esse is to act.  But God is pure act, and therefore is his own Esse.
—Whatever does not have existence in itself exists by participation. God does not participate in any higher forms, so he must exist of himself.

—Esse commune is mere being, without any determinations of quality or form.  But God’s esse is being, determined to the utmost extent.
—In the judgment “God exists”, we do not claim to know God’s act of being, but merely to grasp that there is such an act of being, by its reflection in created things.