Tuesday, June 17, 2014

God's Infinity


1.  Having concluded his examination of the ways God can be said to be good in himself and relative to creatures, Thomas devotes several questions to the different modes of God’s limitlessness: as regards magnitude (Q.7), place (Q.8), and time (QQ.9-10).  These questions, with the discussion of God’s one-ness (Q.11) conclude his examination of the divine essence (QQ.3-11), which is followed by an intense examination of the knowability and naming of God (QQ.12-13), and then the lengthier treatise on the divine operations (QQ.14-26).  We will see that these last five questions on the essence conclude the “negative” portion of the treatise on the One God (QQ.2-26), and the later questions will proceed in light of the doctrine of analogy laid out in QQ.12-13.

2.  Question 7 deals with God’s infinity in his essence, and the first article asks whether God is infinite at all (recall the old “an est” -> “quid est” structure: first we inquire whether God is infinite, and then follow up questions which clarify the mode of his limitlessness).  He proposes three objections: first, that what is infinite is infinite by a lack of determination, ad thus infinity is a kind of imperfection; second, that the categories of infinity and finitude belong to quantity, which is proper to bodies, which God is not; third, that to be limited is to be finite, and God is not all things, so that God is not infinite in being.

3.  For the sed Contra he cites the first book of St. John Damascene’s treatise on the Orthodox Faith.

4.  In the Corpus he begins with a short excursus on the opinions of the ancient pagan philosophers, and then proceeds to solve the question of God’s infinity by examining the meaning of infinity as regards matter and form in things.  It is to be noted that Thomas focuses mainly in this article on the infinity of a thing’s essence or nature.  Thus he observes that matter is infinite in nature because as matter it is in potency to any number of possible forms that it might receive.  Thus in matter, infinity is indeed a kind of imperfection, as the first objection suggests.  But on the part of form, limitation comes from two sources: first from the intrinsic limitations of a particular form as to the nature of its act; second from the matter in which a form is received, because matter contracts the extent of a form (per materiam formae amplitudo contrahitur).  For most forms, this contraction could nonetheless be said to be concomitant with perfection, because without its reception into particular matter, the form has no existence.  But if a form is separate from matter an dsubsists in itself, then its amplitude or fullness is not contracted or limited at all, and thus it can be said to be infinite, not in potency the way matter is, but in its own act.  Then, if the nature of that act is unlimited by any potency at all, as God’s is, the form could be said to be absolutely and essentially infinite.  Thus God, who is pure subsisting form, removed from all matter, and pure act, without any potency, is infinite.

5.  Thomas omits the reply to the first objection, since it is solved by the Corpus.  To the second he responds by saying that quantitative infinity is an infinity on the part of matter. He demonstrates this by pointing out that a figure or shape, which consists of a certain limited quantity of matter, is limited by its form.  Thus an unlimited quantity of matter would be matter unlimited by any form or figure.  And this case has already been discussed in the Corpus.

6.  The third objection he answers by observing that God’s distinctness from creatures is already clear because he subsists in himself, which is true of no other creature, and that being, which is received from God by creatures, subsists in him alone, so that he is radically separate from them. 


- Infinity signifies a kind of imperfection.
- Infinity is a quantitative category.
- To be truly infinite a thing’s being cannot be limited by the existence of things distinct from it.

- Infinity in matter is indeterminacy as regards form, and thus signifies imperfection.
- Infinity in form is a removal of the limitations provided by particular matter, and thus signifies a kind of perfection.
- In God form subsists totally without matter, and thus has a kind of infinity.

- See Corpus
- Quantitative infinity is a kind of material infinity, since an infinity quantity is infinite by the lack of a determinate shape or figure.
- God is distinct from creatures by virtue of his self-subsistence, which is the reason for his infinity, and does not detract from it.

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