Saturday, May 10, 2014

A Refutation of Pantheism


1. Having established that God in himself is utterly simple, Thomas next asks whether God can be part of a composite.  This article is important for showing why certain varieties of pantheism are false.

2. In support of the claim that God is part of things, or enters into composition with things, he proposes three arguments.  The first is based on a quote from Dionysius, which seems to equate the being of all things with Deity.  Thomas answers this objection by explaining that Dionysius calls God the “being of all things” only as their efficient and exemplar cause, i.e. the source and model of their existence.

3. The second objection is based on the ordinary notion of “form”.  Forms are (with the matter that receives them) parts of composites.  Since God is a form, he reasons that God must be part of a composite.  Thomas answers this objection by pointing out (as explained in the corpus) that God is a form which is not composed with any matter.

4. The third is based on the pantheist philosophy of the 12th century writer David of Dinant.  Memory of David of Dinant is preserved largely on the basis of St. Thomas’s comments in this article.  The argument is as follows: Whatever two things differ in no way from each other are actually identical.  Prime matter (i.e., that which is matter for everything else, but which is itself not composed of anything) is utterly simple, because were it not, it would have components, and thus would not be prime matter, but would have some matter beneath it.  But then since whatever two things differ from each other differ by some difference that is in one but not in the other, if God and prime matter are both utterly simple, they can have no superadded differences to distinguish them, and therefore must be identical.  Prime matter, however, enters into composition with other things, and thus so must God.  We will discuss Thomas’s reply to this objection after the corpus, below.

5. The Sed Contra is taken from Dionysius, that God is not commixed with anything.  The quote from Dionysius is confirmed by a reference to the (apocryphal) Liber de Causis of Aristotle.  Amusingly, both of the works cited here are falsely attributed, although the principles are sound in both cases.

6. In the Corpus, Thomas distinguishes three incorrect views on God’s relationship with creatures: that God is the soul of the world, that he is the formal principle of everything, and that he is the same as prime matter.

7. He responds to these three arguments by refuting their common corollary: that God can enter into composition with other things either as a material or as a formal principle.  He gives three refutations of this corollary, which are as follows.

7. First, because God is the first efficient cause.  Since an efficient cause is always distinct from the forms it causes in others, since God is the efficient cause of everything, he cannot be identical with the formal cause of anything other than himself.  On the other hand, if God were to enter into a composite as the material principle, he would have to do so as prime matter, because otherwise he would be caused by some other agent.  But prime matter cannot be identical with an efficient cause, because prime matter is formless potency, while every efficient cause is in some way in act.

8. Second, because as first efficient cause, to act belongs to him first of all and per se.  But in a composite the composite acts primarily and per se, and the parts act on account of the act of the whole.  Thus God cannot be part of a composite.

9. Third, because no part of a compound can be the first being, simply speaking.  Matter is, as matter, in potency, and therefore is posterior to act (since it cannot exist without act, and is real only with reference to some act, either already in it or to be received from another).  And form, in a composite, is participated by the matter in which it is received, which it actuates as a superadded perfection.  Thus, since neither is absolutely primary, but both components are complementary and dependent, God, who is the first being, can be neither.

10. We have provided Thomas’s responses to the first and second objections above.  To the third, he answers that simple things do not differ by superadded differences, but are simply diverse.  The distinction made here is one in Aristotelian taxonomic terminology.  Properly speaking, a difference is what divides some genus into two kinds, which are otherwise joined together in their common possession of a generic form.  But between things that are utterly simple, there can be no common form.  Thus they are simply distinct from each other and incapable of formal comparison except by analogy.  This suffices to refute the argument of the objector.


– Dionysius says that God is the being of all things, and is therefore part of everything.
– Augustine says that God is a form, and forms are always composed with other things.
– Things differ by superadded forms, therefore there can be only one utterly simple thing.  Prime matter is utterly simple, so God must be prime matter, and must therefore enter into composition with other things.

– It is commonly claimed either that God is the soul of the world, or the universal formal principle, or that he is prime matter.
– These views are all false, since God does not enter into composition with anything at all.
– First, because as primary cause, God is distinct from his effects, and is not pure potency.
– Second, because components act on account of the whole, and God acts on account of none but himself.
– Third, because no part in a composite can be utterly primary, as God is: each part is dependent on the others either for actualization or for instantiation.

– He means that God is the efficient and exemplar cause of all things.
– God is a form, but not one that enters into composition with others.
– God and prime matter do not differ as two things in a common genus, but are simply and absolutely diverse.

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