Seat of Wisdom (Spring 2010)
himself, for his essence contains all the intelligibility and goodness found by
likeness in creation.
Denying that God’s knowing and willing is in any way
caused by the world not only maintains the necessity that God be the pure act
which the universe requires as its ultimate cause, it enfolds God’s creative
knowing and willing of us into the supremely blissful act of God being God.
Aquinas realizes that divine knowledge and will cannot depend even in
part upon a world that in its entirety depends upon God knowing and willing it
into existence. Divine knowledge is not derived from the universe, but rather,
like the artist, extends outward to produce it.
Because the object of his self-
understanding is the fullness of perfection, in knowing himself God knows all
there is to be known. For included in his knowing himself perfectly is God’s
knowing of himself as cause, and thus his knowing of all that he can effect. “His
knowledge extends as far as his causality extends,” which, because the proper
effect of his essence is being, means that God properly knows all things that exist
in any way, whether actually or possibly, down to the least minutiae.
his self-understanding God not only knows all that he actually creates, he knows
ST I, q. 14, a. 6: “As therefore the essence of God contains in itself all the
perfection contained in the essence of any other being, and far more, God can know in
Himself all of them with proper knowledge. For the nature proper to each thing consists
in some degree of participation in the divine perfection. Now God could not be said to
know Himself perfectly unless He knew all the ways in which His own perfection can be
shared by others. Neither could He know the very nature of being perfectly, unless He
knew all modes of being. Hence it is manifest that God knows all things with proper
knowledge, in their distinction from each other.” ST I, q. 19, a. 2: “Thus, he wills both
himself to be, and other things to be; but himself as the end, and other things as ordained
to that end; inasmuch as it befits the divine goodness that other things should be partakers
therein.” ST I, q. 19, a. 2, ad 2: “Hence, although God wills things apart from Himself
only for the sake of the end, which is His own goodness, it does not follow that anything
else moves His will, except His goodness. So, as He understands things apart from
Himself by understanding His own essence, so He wills things apart from Himself by
willing His own goodness.”
Charles Hartshorne has accused Aquinas of being inconsistent to the rules of
analogous theological predication on this point, arguing that since analogy requires some
likeness of our reality to the nature of God, then God’s knowledge must in some way be
dependent upon the world if our knowledge is going to reflect it in any way (Man’s
Vision of God, and the Logic of Theism [Hamden, NY: Archon Books, 1964], 235-36).
Yet he seems to have reduced human knowledge to its acquisition, ignoring its retention
and application. The created analogy Aquinas gives for divine knowing is not human
learning, but the creative application of human knowledge in artistic production—e.g.,
the house built in accordance with the architect’s originate idea for it (ST I, q. 14, a. 8).
ST I, q. 14, a. 11; cf. q. 14, a. 5 and q. 25, a. 3
Aquinas’ Theology of the God Who Is
all that his boundless power could create (ST I, q. 14, aa. 9 & 12). To know esse
essentially is to know whatever is, in all the senses and tenses “is” is used.
The operation of God’s willing of creation reflects the same dynamism:
what is properly willed is God’s own goodness, yet in that most sublime act all
that God wills other than himself is willed as well. “His goodness is the reason of
his willing all other things.” (q. 19, a. 4, ad 3) He freely wills the world in the
natural necessity of delightfully willing his own goodness. Thus in parallel to
how God’s knowledge causes, and is not caused by, created things, God’s will is
the cause of the good found in created things, rather than created goods
motivating the divine will to want them (q. 19, a. 5). His willing of creation in the
willing of his own goodness ensures that creation is a free, gratuitous, and
ordered act of God—free because God necessarily wills only his own goodness (q.
19, aa. 3 & 4); gratuitous because God, infinitely satisfied with his own goodness,
seeks or needs nothing from creation (q. 20, a. 2); and ordered because God wills
creation on account of, and as a manifestation of, his own goodness (q. 22, aa. 1 &
2). In this way Aquinas conceives of the bountiful love of God for the world not
as a love that is attracted by created good, but as the love that causes the good
which makes created things lovable.
It is pure gift-love, not acquisitional love.
This theological conception of God’s relation to this world is simply the
working out of the implications of faith’s claim that the world is God’s creation,
made from nothing by his power, in accordance with his wisdom, on account of
his goodness. The divine-world relation is not mutual, precisely because such
mutuality or reciprocity would mean that God is not really Creator. For example,
if God were to come to know what will happen in the world only from the actual
outcomes of contingent events, then the world could not spring forth from the
Creator’s knowledge and will. Part of it at least would proceed from his
ignorance, and as a consequence the whole of it could not be grounded in his
love. Or to say that God is affected by the world, and receives some good from
the world that he otherwise did not eternally possess, is to radically change the
reason for the world from the pure gratuity of the Creator to a utilitarian need on
ST I, q. 19, a. 2: “To every existing thing, then, God wills some good. Hence,
since to love anything is nothing else than to will good to that thing, it is manifest that
God loves everything that exists. Yet not as we love. Because since our will is not the
cause of the goodness of things, but is moved by it as by its object, our love, whereby we
will good to anything, is not the cause of its goodness; but conversely its goodness,
whether real or imaginary, calls forth our love….”
ST I, q. 44, a. 4: “But it does not belong to the first agent, who is agent only, to
act for the acquisition of some end; he intends only to communicate his perfection, which
is his goodness.”
Seat of Wisdom (Spring 2010)
the part of God for some good (in process thought: divine actualization) he
cannot possess otherwise. It also removes the end of creation out of God himself
(where humanity comes to share and rest in unchanging divine life) into a never-
ending process of incremental aggrandizement of the God-world reality. The act
of creation cannot involve or lead to a mutual relation between God and the
world without contradicting the very nature of such an act as one of absolute
origination and ultimate culmination. Happily, given that it is only a God who is
pure act of existence, understanding, loving, perfection that can create, the
Creator-creature relation is truly dynamic even though it is not mutual.
To grasp how this relation is also dynamic on the side of creation—
without making passive the God who is pure act—we must now see how this
theology of God grounds and shapes Aquinas’ understanding of all that
proceeds out from and returns back to God.
III. Ipsum esse subsistens – Foundation of the Summa theologiae
What impact does this theology of God have on the rest of the Summa
theologiae, as the inquiry moves on from discussing God himself to things in their
relation to God? Let me offer first a few general remarks that suggest its
influence in various ways, before specifically elucidating one important point
where this theology of God explicitly grounds the explanation Aquinas offers—
that of the relation of creation to God in the third section of the Prima pars.
First of all, the theological characterization of God that Aquinas presents
in the opening treatise is clearly determinative for how the whole Summa
unfolds. We have noted that Aquinas orders all the subject matter in the Summa
theologiae according to reality’s relation to God as its beginning and end. This
ordering of creation to God (and the corresponding arrangement of the theology)
is possible only if God is ipsum esse subsistens. Only as absolutely simplicity and
the fullness of perfection can God be the singular, ultimate origin of creation and
the sole exemplar of the grand diversity within it. His simple-perfect essence is
the simultaneous one and many the ancients realized the world required,
without any of the further, necessary emanations postulated in neo-Platonism.
Because Aquinas identifies oneness, existence, goodness, understanding and
willing in God as the divine essence itself, his theology can transcend the thought of
Plotinus, whose supreme, the One, had to be conceived as above being, understanding
and goodness because the latter were held to involve some dualism. Cf. The Essential
Plotinus: Representative Treatises from The Enneads, trans. by Elmer O’Brien
(Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1975; facsimile reprint of The New American Library
Aquinas’ Theology of the God Who Is
Likewise, at creation’s other pole, it is due to his radical simplicity and perfection
that God can be the end of all things, the one transcendent vanishing point to
which the multiple and various trajectories inherent in all things converge.
According to Aquinas, order is required when a diverse many proceed from one
and order is possible for the many and different only if all have a
common, transcendent end.
The theology of God expounded in the opening
treatise intends to show how God meets both conditions for the order of the
world. With such a theology of God as origin and end, it makes eminent sense to
structure one’s theological exposition in the pattern of an exitus et reditus.
Besides being responsible for the structure of the whole theological
presentation, this theology of God bears a general influence upon particular
points of discussion within each part of the Summa theologiae. In the Prima pars,
this theology of the one God is proper preparation for the treatise on the Trinity,
for only such a radical simplicity that is never simplistic or monadic can
adequately exclude a tritheistic understanding of the Trinity. Also, the
application of the hermeneutic of simplicity/perfection to the operations of God
is a necessary prelude to the discussion of the processions in the Trinity, which
are likened to these two conscious operations.
In the Prima secundae, the
discussion of grace presupposes an understanding of how God is the Act behind
all created movements and perfections.
Grace can be seen as the perfection of
ST I, q. 42, a. 3: ordo semper dicitur per comparationem ad aliquod
principium. “Order always has reference to some principle.” Cf. ST I, q. 36, a. 2; II-II, q.
26, a. 1.
De potentia Dei, 7, 9; SCG Bk. III, 64. For Aquinas, the order of the universe is
twofold—the intrinsic order of its many parts to one another and to the whole, and the
order of the whole to God (ST I, q. 103, a. 2, ad 3).
Unless the operations of understanding and willing are immanent, simple (not
requiring introduction of composite elements), and perfect in themselves (its good
consisting in the very act itself), they could not be fitting analogies for the Trinitarian
processions. Furthermore, Aquinas’ theological reach to identify God with his acts of
understanding and willing leads him to identify each Person of the Trinity with his
personal processional act: the Father is the act of begetting, the Son is the act of being
begotten, and the Holy Spirit is the act of love spirated.
ST, I-II, q. 109, a. 1: “…all movements, both corporeal and spiritual, are
reduced to the simple First Mover, Who is God. And hence no matter how perfect a
corporeal or spiritual nature is supposed to be, it cannot proceed to its act unless it be
moved by God; but this motion is according to the plan of His providence, and not by
necessity of nature…. Now not only is every motion from God as from the First Mover,
but all formal perfection is from Him as from the First Act. And thus the act of the
intellect or of any created being whatsoever depends upon God in two ways: first,
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