Key Ideas in Summa I.3-26 (God’s Nature)

painting of Thomas Aquinas

Questions 3-4 (God’s Simplicity and Perfection)[not in our reading]

God does not have a body because he is the Unmoved Mover, Pure Actuality, and the most Perfect Being since all bodies must be moved by other things, have potentiality, and exist in various states of perfection(1st). Likewise, God is not material but spiritual because he is Pure Actuality, the first and essential good, and the First Agent, First Efficient Cause (2nd). God does not possess divinity as a quality (as if divinity were something higher than himself); rather, he is divinity, transcending universals and individuals (3rd). God has no cause for his existence because he is his own essence; therefore, God is his own existence and essence (4th). Similarly, God is not part of a genus (5th) and has no accidentals (6th). He is absolutely simple since all composite parts have a cause and he has no cause (7th). God is not the material cause (i.e. the elements) nor the formal cause (i.e. the essence or plan itself) of the universe (8th).

God is the most perfect being, the most actual and most efficient cause (1st); he contains the whole perfection of being (2nd), and he has absolute being, while we by analogy have only contingent being—he must of necessity exist, while we exist only by his decision and permission (3rd).

Question 5 (Goodness)[not in our reading]

Goodness and being are the same, only differing in idea (1st). Being proceeds goodness in idea since goodness is a judgment of what being is (2nd). All being is good as being (i.e. no matter how bad something is morally, it still possesses the good quality of existence, of being created) (3rd). Goodness is the final cause of all being. Beauty and goodness are the same in form; they differ in logic (4th). The virtuous, the useful, and pleasant represent three reasons for doing things (6th).

Question 6 (God’s Goodness)

All things “desire” God either consciously, without knowledge, or as directed by another intelligence (1st). Only God is good in his own essence (3rd), so all other things are good because of God’s goodness (4th).

Question 7 (God’s Infinity)

Material existence has form and is therefore finite (1st); God is infinite. Only God is absolutely infinite, while relative infinites can exist in created existence (2nd), though there is no actual infinite magnitude (3rd) or infinite multitude (4th).

Question 8 (God’s Omnipresence)

God is present in all things as a continual agent of their existence. Nothing is distant from God for God acts immediately in all things (1st). God is everywhere because he has given being to all things (2nd) and because he is the efficient and operating cause of all things. He is especially present in rational creatures and in the saints by grace (3rd).

Question 9 (God’s Immutability)

God is altogether immutable (without change) since he is both Unmoved Mover and perfectly simple—complexity and conditional movement both require change. Therefore, the biblical language describing God is often metaphoric (1st). Only God is immutable; all creatures are mutable to some degree (2nd).

Question 10 (God’s Eternity)

Eternity is without beginning and end and is a simultaneous whole (1st). God’s eternity apprehends all in a simultaneous now (2nd); only God is eternal (3rd) since eternity is a simultaneous whole. We are time-bound, having beginning and end in a sequential existence (4th). Angels have aeviternity, sequential existence that is nonetheless without beginning or end (5th).

God’s Nature

  • Absolute Goodness
  • Infinite (Absolute Infinity)
  • Immutable
  • Eternal
  • Omnipresent

Creation’s Nature

  • Derived Goodness
  • Finite (Relative Infinity not Actual)
  • Mutable
  • Time-Bound (or Aeviternity)
  • Limited Presence

Discussion Questions [Questions 6-10]

  1. How does each difference between God and his creation make you feel?
  2. Why is it important that this difference is true?

Question 11 (God’s Unity) [not in our reading]

“One” as a quality (or descriptor) does not add to being (1st). God is one by virtue of his simplicity and his perfection of being. The unity of the creation also points to this unity of God’s (3rd). The Trinity possesses absolute unity (4th).

Question 12 (The Beatific Vision)[not in our reading]

Our ultimate beatitude is being able to finally see God (1st). A perspiciuity of intellect and divine glory infused in our resurrection bodies will make this vision possible (3rd). Otherwise, it is impossible for any created intellect to see the essence of God by its own natural power (4th). We are raised up by what is above us to see God (5th). The one who has more charity will be more beautiful and see God more perfectly (6th). We will “comprehend” God’s essence not in the sense of partaking of it but in the sense of attaining to it (7th). Yet we cannot see all existence in God for this is only possible for God in his absolute power (8th). God’s divine help makes it possible for us to see him  (11th). Our mortal reason can only go as far as sensible things lead us, so it can never “see” the essence of God (12th) [see pg 121]

Question 13 (God’s Names)

Names can be given God as far as we understand God (1st). Names signify his relatedness to his creation, but they do not signify his absolute substance (2nd). God is one, but our own concepts of God are multiple (4th). God’s names are analogical with created things (5th). [cf. pg. 127] Metaphoric names are not essential names. The names for God that imply a relationship to creatures represent a change in the human side of these relationships (7th). The name “God” itself is incommunicable in reality though often communicable in opinion (9th). “HE WHO IS” (Yhwh) is the most univocal of names, expressing his simple and eternally present existence (11th). These ideas about God are not false, only limited (12th).

Discussion Question

  • What does each category suggest about the uses and limits of our names for God? (cf. pg 128, n. 100)

Questions 14-15 (God’s Knowledge) [not in our reading]

God has perfect knowledge—intelligence, scientia, wisdom, prudence (1st). God is intellect in his substance, and since God perfectly understands himself (5th), he also understands all things at every level being that he is all powerful (6th). The knowledge of God is the cause of all things, being prior to all natural things (8th). God knows all that can be done even if not in actual existence (9th). God knows evil things because they are the privation of the good (10th). God knows singular things (11th), relatively infinite things (12th), and all future contingencies (13th). The [Platonic] Ideas exist in the Divine Mind (Q15—1st and 2nd).

Question 16 (Truth)

Truth is the equation of thought and thing (i.e. what exist in reality) (1st). Truth and being are the same in the sense that what is true is actual (3rd). Goodness is logically prior to the true since truth is a kind of goodness (4th). God is Truth Himself (5th), and truth is eternal (7th) and immutable only in the Divine Intellect (8th).

Question 17 (Falsity)

Something is false when it falls short of its intent; God cannot fall short, so only voluntary agents can withdraw from what is ordained (1st). The senses can give false information when they are unsound (2nd), while the intellect falls short when its information is imperfect, not when the principles known are correct (3rd).

Discussion Questions [Questions 16-17]

  1. How do we know if something is true or false?
  2. According to Aquinas, how are the true, the beautiful, the good, and being related? Do you agree?

Question 19 (God’s Will) [not in our reading]

There is will in God because there is intellect; God along “desires” the good (1st). The eternally active God always wills all to be (2nd). While some things God wills of absolute necessity, other things he wills for their own good, though he never wills what cannot be (3rd). God’s will is subject to his nature (4th). God wills the end what the causes’ outcome; God wills all aspects of the actions (5th). God’s will is always finally fulfilled either by order or the punishment of sin 9i.e. antecedent vs. consequent will) (6th) . God’s will is not changeable though it works a change in us (7th). God wills some things necessarily and some things contingently (8th). God doesn’t will evil but we does will that evil can be chosen by free moral agents (9th). God doesn’t have the “passion” of anger (being that he is immutable) (11th).

Question 20 (God’s Love)

Love exists in God as an act of intellectual appeal (i.e. it is not a mutable stance that wavers with emotion) (1st). God loves all things since he wills them to be and wills their good (2nd). God loves some things more than others since he wills some things to be greater than others (3rd) (4th).

Question 21 (God’s Justice and Mercy)

There are two kinds of justice: commutative (mutual giving and receiving) and distributive (a ruler giving what is due to each rank). God’s justice is distributive (1st). God’s justice is truth because in the same way that truth is to the mind, so art is to the art itself, so justice is to the law it accords (2nd). God’s mercy goes not against his justice but by doing something beyond it—remission of a fault through forgiveness (3rd). Justice presupposes mercy because mercy is infinite; therefore, justice and mercy exist in all God’s works. All involve the nature of the creation as God designed it to be (4th).

Question 22 (God’s Providence )

Since God by his intellect is the cause of all things, the type (plan, model) must exist in him first. God wills the good, especially the last end of everything (1st). The Universal Cause allows for things contrary to a particular nature. God can allow for certain defects in particulars as part of his universal plan (cf. pg 172 Augustine) (2nd). God’s providence includes governing through intermediaries (3rd). God’s will is never frustrated; he allows some things in his plan to be contingent while other things are absolutely necessary (4th).

Question 23 (Predestination)

God predestines all people, giving some to eternal life (1st). God also permits some to fall away to damnation; they reprobate themselves, but God removes his grace (3rd). There is no distinction between what flows from grace and what flows out of free will because free will is a secondary cause used by the primary cause of God’s predestination (5th). Only God knows the number of those predestined for eternal happiness (7th). God ordains that some prayers (i.e. those of the saints) be secondary causes in his predestined plan to effect the salvation of others, though only God is the primary cause of human salvation (8th).

Question 25 (God’s Power)

God’s power is purely active not potential (1st), and God’s infinite power follows from his infinite essence (2nd). God can do all that is actively possible and logically possible (3rd). God cannot do that which is logically impossible (e.g. Make the past not to have been or make a rock so big he can’t lift it) (4th). God can make things infinitely better than he has (i.e. This is not the best of all possible worlds).

Question 26 (God’s Beauty)

All beauty exists in God. God’s own self is full of delight and joy (cf. pg. 185).

Discussion Questions [Questions 20-26]

  1. Is it correct to say that since God is immutable that his love is intellectual will rather than emotional?
  2. Why does Aquinas think God’s mercy must proceed his justice? What would that imply about the universe?
  3. How does Aquinas try to solve the problem of predestination and free will? Do you think he is successful?
  4. Does saying that God cannot do the logically impossible put limits on God?
  5. Why is it important that God in himself possess joy and delight?