Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Power, Presence, Essence


1.  Having clarified the major problems related to God’s location in the world, Thomas dedicates his next article to the different modes of God’s presence in things.  Obviously God’s presence in things can be considered in a large number of ways, but Thomas wants to defend a particular set as primary: power, presence, and essence.  The function of this article is to reduce the various modes of God’s existence in things to these three.

2.  Against the threefold enumeration of God’s being in things, Thomas proposes four objections.  The first is from an equivocation on the meaning of the phrase “in aliquo per essentiam” (in something by way of essence).  The objector says that God cannot be in things by way of essence, because then God would have to be part of the essences of things, which is impossible for various reasons already established (cf. Q.3 A.8).

3.  The second objection attempts to reduce the notion of being in a thing by presence to being in a thing by way of essence, so that the one of them is superfluous and should be stricken from the list.

4.  The third objection is from the insufficiency of the three: if God is in things by his power, he is also in them by his knowledge and his will (all of which are aspects of the single divine operation, which will be discussed later on), so that it is arbitrary to include “power” as a mode of being in, and not these others as well.

5.  The fourth objection is from the distinction between grace and nature.  Since grace represents a special degree of perfection in creatures, and God’s presence in a thing by way of grace is distinguished specially from his ordinary presence in things, the objector claims that every distinct degree of perfection should be the basis of a distinct mode of God’s presence in things.

6.  For his Sed Contra, he cites the text of the Ordinary Gloss on the Song of Songs, which establishes “substance, presence, and power” as the common modes of God’s existence in things, and grace as a special mode which exceeds these.

7.  In the Corpus, he begins by distinguishing between God’s presence as the efficient cause of creatures, and his presence as the object and end of the intellectual faculties of rational creatures.  This is the difference between God’s being in things by way of nature, and his being in things by way of grace.  For the remainder of the Corpus he explains the threefold division of the ordinary being of God in creatures.  He is in them by way of power, because all things are subject to his power, who made them and sustains them in being.  He is in them by way of presence, because all things are open to him, whose very act of knowing constitutes them in existence (as will be discussed later on).  And he is in them by way of essence as the innermost cause of their existence.

8.  The replies to the objections are brief.  To the first, he explains the obvious: that God is present in things by way of essence not as part of the essences of creatures, but by his own essence, which is the cause of their existence.

9.  To the second, he points out that presence by way of knowledge and by way of substance are distinct and need not coincide (as one sees something from afar), and therefore justifies their inclusion in the list.

10.  To the third he explains that by God’s knowledge and will, it is more correct to say that creatures are present in God than the reverse, since the by knowledge the known is in the knower, etc.  Power however involves the act of one agent being applied  to something outside of itself, so it makes sense to speak of God being in things by his power in a way that it does not make sense to say the same for knowledge or will.

11.  Finally, to the fourth objection he answers that grace alone brings creatures to the sort of perfection in which God himself is known and loved by another, so that it deserves a special distinction of its own.


- God is not essentially in anything.
- “Essence” and “Presence” are redundant.
- If “Power” is listed, then Knowledge and Will ought to be as well.
- Grace ought to be added to the list.

- Power on account of all things being subject to him.
- Presence because he knows all things.
- Essence because he is the cause of all being.

- He is in them not as part of their essence but as the cause of their being.
- Presence signifies knowledge, Essence signifies causation.
- The other operations are duly included in “Power”
- Grace is singular as a special mode of God’s presence, and only in rational creatures.

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