"The good of the grace of one soul is greater than the good of the nature of the whole universe"
- St Thomas Aquinas Ia IIa, q.24, a. 3, ad 2

— A Commentary on the First Part of St Thomas' Theological Summa

by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O. P.


Seventh article: whether God is the subject of this science

State of the question. At first sight is seems that this article comes rather late in the discussion, because a science is specified by its proper object or subject, and from this its definition is derived, its properties are deduced, and its relations are established to the other sciences either inferior or superior.

Nevertheless, if the difficulties propounded at the beginning of this article are carefully considered, we see that it is in the right place here as being a recapitulation of the preceding articles and the goal of the hunt or search for the real scientific definition of sacred theology. The nominal definition of sacred theology, that it is the science of God derived from revelation, sufficed for the preceding articles.

It is now formally and explicitly determined why the subject of sacred theology is not, as some said, either Christ the mediator, or the sacraments, or the public worship due to God, or supernatural being in general, but God Himself in His intimate life.

The difficulty, however, is that every science knows what its subject is by means of the definition of the same, and from this it deduces the properties. Thus mathematics knows what is quantity, either continuous or discrete, namely, magnitude and number. Likewise natural philosophy knows what is mobile being, and metaphysics what is being as such. Contrary to this, sacred theology does not know properly or quiddatively what God is. As Damascene says: "It is impossible to say what God is." (88) To say what the Deity is we should have to see it; the beatific vision, however, is not given to one in this life. Moreover, sacred theology treats not only of God, but also of creatures and of human acts.

The reply, however, is that God is the subject of sacred theology.
1) This is already evident from the nominal definition of theology, since the term implies a discussion about God.
2) The direct proof is as follows: The object of a faculty or the subject of a science is that under the aspect of which, all things are referred to the faculty or the science; but all things are considered in sacred theology with reference to God under the aspect of God; therefore God, under the aspect of God, is the subject of this science.

The major distinguishes to some extent between object and subject. The object is that which is presented to the faculty, and is that which the faculty directly and immediately attains, and hence that under the aspect of which it attains all other things. Thus the object of sight is the colored object seen by sense perception; the object of the intellect is being, but the proper object of the human intellect is intelligible being of sensible things. With reference to science, which demonstrates conclusions about some subject (properties of man, for instance, about man), its object is the demonstrated conclusion or conclusions, but its subject is that which is the subject of the conclusions, or that about which the properties are demonstrated. Object and subject are commonly accepted for the same thing. But, strictly speaking, the subject of metaphysics is being as such, because metaphysics demonstrates the properties of being. The subject of natural philosophy is mobile being, and the subject of psychology is the soul. Hence, if metaphysics treats of God in natural theology, it does not discuss Him as the proper subject but as He is the cause of the being as such of various things.

I.ikewise the subject of medicine is the human body viewed under the aspect of health; and medicine considers all other things as remedies -salts, for instance, medicinal herbs, and such like-and so far as these have reference to the health of the human body. So also psychology considers the various manifestations of the life of the soul, languages, for instance, so far as these refer to the soul. It does not treat of these as the linguist does. Hence, although the object of a faculty may be something common to many sciences, the subject of a science may be something that is restricted.

The minor is: In sacred theology all things are considered with reference to God under the aspect of God. By logical induction is evident; for it treats either of God Himself, or of those things that refer to Him as the beginning and end of all things. Thus sacred theology in the treatises on God as one, as triune, as creator, as Word made flesh, treats of God as the proper subject, not as metaphysics does, which treats of God as He is the cause of the being of such of various things. Moreover, sacred theology treats of God under the aspect of God or of the Deity, and not only as He is the first Being, which metaphysics does. This means that it treats of God in His intimate life, and it is concerned with the "deep things of God." (89) Therefore all the conclusions of sacred theology are derived from a certainty of knowledge of the Deity transmitted through revelation and directed to a greater knowledge of this Deity, just as all the conclusions of metaphysics presuppose the notion of being and are directed to a more profound knowledge of being, and just as all the conclusions of psychology tend to a greater knowledge of the soul.(90)

As long as sacred theology treats of creatures it considers them as they refer to God under the aspect of the Deity, just as medicine considers mineral remedies or medicinal herbs so far as they refer to man's health. This means that sacred theology treats of creatures, in that they are vestiges or images of God, and in that the nobler creatures have been admitted to participate in God's intimate life by grace, and are ordained to see God and love Him above all things.(91) Thus God under the.asect of God is the proper subject of theology; or He is the formal object quod of theology made known the light of virtual revelation. St. Thomas had said in the preceding article that it is "God so far as He is known to Himself alone and revealed to others."

This is confirmed by the following argument: A science and its principles have the same subject, since the whole science is virtually contained in its principles; but God under the aspect of the Deity is the subject of the principles of this science, which are the articles of faith; therefore God is the subject of this science.

St. Thomas enumerates the articles of faith. (92) Four of them concern the one and triune God; three refer to Him as He is the cause of creatures, as also of grace and glory; the rest are about the Word made flesh. All the other truths of faith are referred to these articles of faith. As theology is a science deriving its principles from faith, its object is the same as that of faith, though this object is perceived not by the light of formal but of virtual revelation.

We have as yet to consider the difficulty posited at the beginning of this article, which is to the effect that in this life we cannot know what God is or know His essence. The Deity as such or the divine essence is known through the beatific vision. How can it be said, therefore, that sacred theology is the science that treats of God under the aspect of the Deity?

St. Thomas replies to the first objection by saying that, "although we cannot know what constitutes the essence of God, nevertheless in this science we make use of His effects either of nature or of grace, in place of a definition." Thus we say that sacred theology treats of God as the Author of grace, and this means a formal participation in the Deity. We also know the infinite fecundity within the Deity, in that it is manifested to us through the revealed mystery of the Trinity. Thus we have analogical knowledge of the divine Paternity, the divine Filiation, and the divine Spiration.

As Cajetan remarks,(93) God can be considered: (1) under the common concepts of being and act; (2) under the relative concept of supreme cause; (3) under the mixed concept (namely, one that is both common and either relative or negative) of pure act, first being;:( 4) transcending all these modes, however, God can be considered according to His proper quiddity or essence, "which by way of circumlocution we call the Deity." (94)

We have only the name but not the proper concept of the Deity as such. In this life by this name we understand an eminence that contains formally all absolutely simple perfections, such as being, unity, truth. ... As regards the Deity we are somehow like one who, having seen the seven colors of the rainbow and knowing of whiteness only by name, would understand that by this name is meant the origin of colors. The difference, however, is this, that this whiteness contains colors only virtually, whereas the Deity contains absolutely simple perfections formally and eminently.

At the end of the reply to the first objection, St. Thomas remarks that in some philosophical sciences the effect is taken in place of a definition of the cause. Such is the case in a descriptive definition, for it is only descriptively ,and, as it were, empirically that we define the species of minerals, plants, and animals, man being the exception. We do not know the essence of the rose, the lion, the eagle. This means that we do not know their distinct specific difference, so as to deduce their properties. The reason is that the substantial forms, of these plants and animals are immersed in matter. Man alone among animals is properly defined by means of the specific difference, and from this his properties are deduced, because his form, the rational soul, is not immersed in matter, and the power to reason is a mode of intelligence the object of which is intelligible being. Thus by the light of intelligible being man becomes intelligible to himself; he defines his own nature better than that of a lion or eagle, the forms of which do not transcend the material; and just as the specific difference of the lion and eagle is inferior to our intellectual knowledge, so the Deity, which is, as it were, the specific difference of God, is superior to our natural intellectual knowledge. It remains to be said, however, , that the Deity is known in the midst of faith as the root of the divine processions manifesting its fecundity, and as the c ause of grace and glory, these being properly the formal participations in the Deity as such, since by these gifts "we are made partakers of the divine nature." (95)

In this sense, therefore, we say that the subject of sacred theology is God under the aspect of the Deity, according as He comes within the scope of virtual revelation. But if we distinguish between its object and subject then the conclusions about God or those things that are directed to Him constitute its object.

First corollary. Even when sacred theology treats of creatures, of the morality of human acts, God is always its subject, that is, God the Creator or God the ultimate end. On the other hand, the subject of ethics is human action. Thus ethics is specifically distinct from moral theology, just as acquired prudence, described by Aristotle as "the right ordering of things to be done," differs from infused prudence spoken of in the Gospels .(96)

Second corollary. Among the various theological systems, that one approaches closer to the perfection of a theological science which has as its germinating idea and, as it were, as its golden key, the exalted notion of God the Author of grace and salvation, rather than the notion of the created will. The reason is that in theology the idea of God is, as it were, the sun illuminating all things, just as in metaphysics this role belongs to the idea of being as such.

Third corollary. From the fact that God is the proper object of theology, this science begins by treating of God as He is in Himself, then of the procession of creatures from God, and, finally of the ordaining of created things to God as to their end. Such is the method employed in the Theological Summa.(97) It is the synthetic method of descent from God and a return to Him.

Contrary to this, metaphysics is the science of being as such, of being as previously known by us in sensible things, and it begins to treat of the knowableness of extramental being,(98) of being as divided into substance and accident, potency and act, and it discusses God only at the end of the treatise.(99) Moreover, metaphysics, as a general rule, comes after natural philosophy, since the being of sensible things is what is first known by our intellect. The method in philosophy is analytico-synthetic; it ascends to God, and afterward judges of creatures from its lofty standpoint of reference to the first cause.

This difference must be carefully noted. St. Thomas says: "In the doctrine of philosophy . . . the discussion is first about creatures and finally about God; in the doctrine of faith, which discusses creatures only as they refer to God, God is its first consideration, then creatures, thus it is more perfect, as being more like God's knowledge." (100) Wherefore the philosophical treatise on the soul begins by discussing the vegetative and sensitive faculties of the soul and ends by discussing the intellective faculties, the spirituality and immortality of which it finally proves; whereas from the very start the treatise on man,' (101) considering the soul as coming from God, treats almost immediately of its incorruptibility and its difference from the angelic nature.

Index Top


88. De fide orthod., Bk. III, chap. 4

89. I Cor. 2:10.

90. See Cajetan's commentary on this article, no 1.

91. See reply to the second objection of this article.

92. Summa theol., IIa IIae, q. 1i, a.8.

93. See his commentary on this article, no.1.

94. Contra Gentes, Bk. I, chap. 3.

95. II Pet. 1: 4

96. Summa theol., la IIae, q.63, a.4.

97. See also Contra Gentes, Bk. I, chaps. 3, 9; Bk. II, chaps. 4, 46.

98. Metaph., Bk. IV.

99 Ibid., Bk. XII

100. Contra Gentes, Bk. II, chap. 4.

101. Summa theol., la, q.75.

101. Metaph., Bk. IV.


"Lord, take from me everything that hinders me from going to You. give me all that will lead me to You. Take me from myself and give me to Yourself."

St Nicholas Flue

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"The supreme perfection of man in this life is to be so united to God that all his soul with all its faculties and powers are so gathered into the Lord God that he becomes one spirit with him, and remembers nothing except God, is aware of and recognises nothing but God, but with all his desires unified by the joy of love, he rests contentedly in the enjoyment of his Maker alone."

St Albert the Great

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"A tree that is cultivated and guarded through the care of its owner produces its fruit at the expected time. "

St John of the Cross, OCD - Doctor of the Church

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