"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.


Second article: whether it can be demonstrated that God exists (cont)

1) In the genus of material cause we must admit the presence of first matter, namely, some first material subject; otherwise there would would be no second matter or what is disposed to receive this or that form. In such a case there would be no earth, air, water, fire or bodies composed of elements. To deny first matter would be to do away with the material cause, which is a necessary requisite as constituting the subject of alteration.

2) In the genus of formal cause there must be a substantial fomr underlying the accidental forms, and also in the category of substance, as in the categories of quantity, quality . . . we must come to the supreme genus, for without this there would be no directly subordinate genera, and so there would be nothing definable and nothing intelligible. Thus the supreme genus of substance is divided into corporeal and incorporeal substances; the corporeal are divided into non-living and living; the living into non-sensitive and sensitive; the sensitive into irrational and rational. Likewise there is no proceeding indefinitely in a series of demonstration but we must come to those first indemonstrable and to us self-evident principles.(72) It is always a case of anagke stenai (ed. Greek) (necessity of a first).

Similarly, in the genus of efficient cause there is no proceeding indefinitely in a series of directly connected causes, although there may be such a series of accidentally connected past causes. Thus as Aristotle says, man is moved to take off his clothes when it is warm, but this happens because of the sun, but now the sun is moved by a superior force, and we cannot proceed to infinity in this series of directly connected causes; otherwise there would be no cause for movement as such or in the absolute sense (and not merely as it is this particular motion). But motion needs a cause because it is not its own principle of motion; it is not as A is to A in its reference to being, that is to say, it is not identical with its being.

Lastly, in the genus of final cause there is no process to infinity in a series of directly subordinated ends, otherwise there would be no final causality. As St. Thomas says: "Absolutely speaking, it is not possible to proceed indefinitely in the matter of ends from any point of view. For in all things whatever there is an essential order of one to another, so that if the first is removed, those that are ordained to the first, must of necessity be removed also. ... In ends, that which is first in the order of intention, is the principle as it were, moving the appetite. Consequently, if you remove this principle, there will be nothing to move the appetite (that is, attract it). . . . But since accidental causes are indeterminate ... it happens that there is an accidental infinity of ends and of things ordained to the end." (73)

There is direct subordination when it is said that we walk so as to keep in health, and that we seek health for the sake of happiness. But if we were to say that happiness is sought for some other reason and so on indefinitely, then this would do away with all finality and hence with every desire and action. The ultimate end, considered at least under the aspect of happiness in general, is prior in intention. Thus all men wish to be happy, although many do not know what truly constitutes happiness.

Hence in the four kinds of causes there can be no process to infinity in a series of directly connected causes, otherwise this would do away with every kind of cause. Thus we see that this principle of the impossibility of proceeding indefinitely in such a series of causes is, as it were, the corollary of the principle of causality; in fact, it is the corollary to the commonly accepted principle of causality according as this latter is proportionately or analogically verified in the four kinds of causes.

Corollary. But if the process were to infinity in a series of accidentally connected past causes, as regards generations of men, animals, and plants, then the first Cause would have only a priority of dignity and causality in its relation to the world. This will be more clearly explained farther on when we show that there is no necessity for a first man, a first lion, a first day, or a first revolution of the sun.(74) So it would have been if God had most freely willed an eternal creation; yet in this case He would have priority of causality as regards the created world, just as the foot would have with reference to its imprint or trace left in the sand, if the foot were eternally implanted in the sand. Hence in the proofs for God's existence, we must not proceed according to a series of past causes, but we must get away from this series and rise above it to an actually existing higher cause. For it is evident that any contingent being, such as Abel the son of Adam, does not necessarily require another contingent being as cause, but they both postulate the necessary Being as higher cause.

Second doubt. What is to be our method of procedure as regards agnosticism, in showing the ontological and transcendental validity of the ideas and principles from which the proofs for God's existence are deduced?

This question has been fully discussed by us elsewhere (75) and only the outstanding principles will be discussed here. Agnosticism in general rejects the demonstrability of God's existence because it denies the ontological and transcendental validity of first ideas and principles of reason, especially the principle of causality. For their formula of the principle of causality is not: every contingent being has an efficient cause; but they say: every phenomenon presupposes an antecedent phenomenon, and so on indefinitely. Hence, by virtue of this principle thus formulated in the order of phenomena, it is impossible to transcend this same order.

These agnostics are either of the empirical or idealist type. The empiricists, such as the Positivists, reduce the principle of causality to an experimental law which is repeatedly confirmed and corroborated by heredity; but in their opinion we do not know whether the law applies beyond the scope of our experience. Perhaps, beyond the limits of our experience, there is a phenomenon without one preceding it, or perhaps something comes into being that is not caused. But this is contrary to common sense or natural reason, for something to come into being that is not caused.

The idealist agnostics, however, such as Kant, seek somehow to explain this intimate persuasion of the common sense and of the absolute necessity and universality of the principle of causality. But they say that this necessity is subjective, and is the result of the subjective application of the category of our mind, namely, of the category of causality as regards phenomena. Thus they say that it is for us unintelligible for something to come into being that is not caused; but perhaps this is not absolutely impossible outside our mind.

But we cannot in the course of this theological treatise engage in a lengthy and philosophical discussion of this question, which we have done in another of our works as above mentioned. It suffices to point out the fundamentals, the ignorance of which does not excuse one.

The ontological validity of first ideas and of the first principles of reason is shown inasmuch as these ideas and correlative principles do not express sensible phenomena but being that is in itself intelligible and accidentally sensible, and also the first modes of being. Hence they are said to have not merely phenomenal validity; as the ideas of color, heat, or sound have, for these express phenomena; but their validity is ontological since by means of them we acquire a knowledge of being that underlies the phenomena.

Of such a nature are the ideas of being, substance, and also of causality. For causality is not anything directly sensible (either the proper sensible, as color or sound; or the common sensible that affects several senses, such as extension or figure); but it is the accidentally sensible and directly intelligible which, as St. Thomas says, "is apprehended by the intellect immediately that the object of sense perception is presented to it; just as, when I see someone speaking or moving, I apprehend by the intellect (without any illative process of reasoning) that there is life; hence I can say that I see him living," (76) although life is not directly sensible as color is. Just as only the intellect, reading what is within, can directly apprehend being, and substance or substantial being, so only this faculty is able directly to apprehend efficient causality and finality. For efficient causality is the production or realization of actual being, and this realization is apprehended only by the faculty whose object is real being. It is not apprehended by sight which is specified by the colored object, or by hearing which is specified by sound. But, whereas sight apprehends the colored being as colored, the intellect apprehends colored being as being and, if this being undergoes a change, the intellect apprehends its passive and active realization. Likewise, whereas the sense of touch is aware of the extension and hardness of bodies, the intellect knows that the passive pressure produced upon us by the resistance of bodies is a reality.

Hence St. Thomas says: "Understanding implies an intimate knowledge, for intelligere (to understand) is the same as intus legere (to read inwardly). This is clear to anyone who considers the difference between intellect and sense, because sensitive knowledge is concerned with external sensible qualities (or phenomena), whereas intellective knowledge penetrates into the very essence of a thing (at least the intellect has a confused knowledge, which means that it penetrates to the intelligible being of sensible things). The object of the intellect is what a thing is, as stated in De anima (Bk. III, chap. 6). . . . Thus, under the accidents lies hidden the nature of the substantial reality (and only the intellect knows the difference between the natures of a stone, a plant, and an animal); under words lies hidden their meaning . . . and effects lie hidden in their causes, and vice versa." (77) In like manner, St. Thomas ,shows that although the irrational animal knows by sense perception the thing toward which it tends as its prey, yet it does not see in it the idea of an end as such, or the reason for the existence of the means. These cannot be apprehended except by the faculty whose object is intelligible being and the reasons for the existence of things.(78)

Nor can it be said that the idea of causality is merely a subjective category of the mind, the sole purpose of which is to express something mental or logical being; for this idea, just as that of extramental being, is a representation that is essentially related to the thing represented. As St. Thomas says: "That which is primarily understood is the object, of which the species is the likeness." Just previous to this he had said: "But since the intellect reflects upon itself, by such reflection it understands both its own act of intelligence, and the species by which it understands." (79) Similarly he writes: "Yet it is the stone which is understood, not the likeness of the stone, except by a reflection of the intellect on itself; otherwise the objects of sciences would not be things, but only intelligible species." (80) That the sciences are concerned with things is a truth held by all men as in accordance with natural reason. Thus these sciences are distinct from logic, which is concerned with mental being. Otherwise we should have to identify direct with reflex understanding; yet the two are distinct, because the latter presupposes the former.

Confirmation. The ontological validity of the first ideas of reason and of the correlated principles is admitted by all as naturally evident, even by the agnostics when they are not actually defending their own opinion, which is a denial of this validity. Thus all men are convinced that even in some world of which we know nothing it is absolutely impossible that anything should come into being without a cause. Therefore, in opposition to empiricism, we say that this principle transcends experience. Even the idealist agnostics hold that they are really the authors of their books; hence they admit that causality expresses a reality, and not only what is merely subjective. Otherwise we should have to say that the murderer was not really the cause of death , and that he does not deserve really to be punished; but we must say that he was the cause of death only in the manner in which we conceive of it. In like manner, we should have to say that Kant was not really the author of the Critique of Pure Reason, but is said to be the author of this work as we conceive of it. According to this opinion there would be no real relation of dependence of the creature on God, but only a logical relation, just as we conceive it to be in God with reference to creatures.

Hence to deny the ontological validity of the first ideas of our intellect is to deny that the object of the intellect is intelligible being.(81) In other words, this means that intelligible being is reduced either to the order of sensible phenomena that are the objects of the external or internal senses, or else to that of mental being which is the object of logic, and thus there would no longer be any distinction between logic and the other sciences. Hence this question in its final analysis is one that concerns the problem of universals. Empirical agnostics, like all sensualists, are nominalists. For such as these the idea is but a certain composite and confused image of the imagination accompanied by a common name. The idealist agnostics are subjectivist conceptualists, and for these every idea is but an expression of mental being. Contrary to this, traditional realism holds that the proper object of our intellect is the intelligible being of sensible things which "the intellect apprehends immediately that the object of sense perception is presented to it," previous to any illative process of reasoning.(82)

But the transcendent validity of the first principles of reason and of their correlated principles consists in this, that by them we acquire certainty of knowledge as regards the first transcendent cause, or, in other words, of the Cause that is really and essentially distinct from the world. Taken in this sense, the transcendent validity of these ideas is clearly seen from the fact that these ideas express perfections which, in what is formally denoted by them, imply no imperfection. Hence the analogical but proper attribution of these ideas in an eminent degree to the supreme Being implies no contradiction, and they are actually attributed to Him, if the world demands a supreme cause having these perfections.

Such are the ideas of being, unity, truth, goodness, causality ... for these are already analogically predicated of various finite beings; analogically, to be sure, but properly and not merely metaphorically. Thus being is first of all predicated of substance and then of accidents, of a stone, for instance, and then of its size, qualities, and other notes. In like manner, goodness is already predicated analogically but properly of a good stone, a good fruit, a good horse, of a virtuous and generous man. Moreover, these ideas are not only predicated analogically of finite beings, but they imply no imperfection in what they formally denote, although the way in which they are predicated of creatures does imply perfection. Thus wisdom, as found in human beings and even in angels, is imperfect; but wisdom as such is not, for it means the knowledge of all things by the highest of causes. Hence there is no repugnance in the idea that these perfections, which in themselves imply no imperfection, should be attributed analogically and in a most eminent degree to the most perfect Being. And they must actually be attributed to Him if the world requires these perfections.

Index Top


72. Post. Anal., Bk. I, lect. 35.

73. Summa theol., Ia IIae, q. 1, a.4.

74. Ibid., Ia, q.46, a.2, c. ad 6um et 7um.

75. See God, His Existence, I, 111-242.

76. Com. on De anima, Bk. II, chap. 6, lect. 13.

77. Summa theol., IIa IIae, q.8, a. 1.

78. Ibid., Ia IIae, q. 1, a.2.

79. Ibid., Ia, q.85, a.2; cf. ad 1um, ad 2um et ad 3um.

80. Ibid., q.76, a.2 ad 4um; consult also Com. on De anima, Bk. III, lect. 8.

81. It is self-evident that the object of the intellect is intelligible being. This truth is established from the operations of the mind by an inductive process of reasoning; for every conception or idea presupposes the idea of being (and is concerned with the modes of being). The formal element in every judgment consists in the final analysis in the verb "is." ("Peter runs" is equivalent to "Peter is running"). Every process of reasoning gives either the reason for the existence of the thing demonstrated (in a priori demonstrations), or for affirming the existence of the thing (in a posteriori demonstrations).

82. Cf. St. Thomas, Com. on De anima, Bk. II, chap. 6, lect. 13.


"Though the path is plain and smooth for people of good will, those who walk it will not travel far, and will do so only with difficulty if they do not have good feet, courage, and tenacity of spirit. "

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

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"The one thing necessary which Jesus spoke of to Martha and Mary consists in hearing the word of God and living by it."

R. Garrigou-Lagrange, OP

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"As the flesh is nourished by food, so is man supported by prayers"

St Augustine

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