"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.


Third article: whether God exists

State of the question. From the difficulties presented by St. Thomas at the beginning of this article, it seems that he had in mind the principal objections raised by both the pessimists and the pantheists against the true God.

The first difficulty, which has often been formulated, is taken from the fact that physical and moral evil are in the world. It seems from this that the world has not been produced by a perfect cause, by one of infinite goodness whose works exclude all that is evi1.(97) Thus among modern philosophers, Stuart Mill admitted that God is finite, because He cannot prevent all evils. This same point of view accounts for the pessimistic doctrine of Schopenhauer and Hartmann. The second difficulty is as follows: What can be accounted for by a few principles is not produced by many; but natural things can be reduced to one principle, which is nature; and voluntary things can be reduced to one principle, which is human reason or will; therefore it is not necessary to admit the existence of a first transcendent cause that is distinct from the world.(98) This difficulty is later on developed in its pantheistic aspect.(99)

From what is said in the present article, some have made the unwarrantable assertion that St. Thomas did not consider the pantheistic hypothesis and therefore did not refute it, and that his five ways of proving God's existence are of no validity in disproving the pantheism of Spinoza, who admitted in some sense the existence of a first Mover, a first Cause, a first necessary Being, a supreme Being, even to some extent a first Ordainer, but a being who is not really and essentially distinct from the world. If such were the case, the Angelic Doctor would have been ignorant of this question as it was discussed even in his time.

In answer to this we say that the pantheism of several ancient as well as of certain medieval philosophers was not unknown to St. Thomas. In fact, he has this error in mind in the second objection of this article, and he alludes to it more explicitly farther on.(100) He certainly knew from the works of Aristotle about the two principal forms of monism, or the pantheism of antiquity, that is, the static monism of Parmenides, and the absolute evolutionism of Heraclitus. In the former case, the material things of the world are absorbed in the one and only immobile Being, and it is a sort of acosmism. In the latter case, and in contradistinction to the former, God is absorbed in the evolution itself of the world; God becomes in the world, and this pantheism is a sort of atheism. Pantheism must of necessity always fluctuate between atheism and acosmism.(101) Spinoza is of the school of Parmenides in the application of his absolute realism to the notion of substantial being. Hegel's evolutionism, on the contrary, is developed more in conformity with the views of Heraclitus.
St. Thomas was acquainted, moreover, with the pantheism of certain medieval philosophers. In a certain article he does indeed refute the materialistic pantheism of David of Dinant as well as the pantheistic theory that God is the formal cause of all things.(102) He even refuted the pantheistic emanationism of the Neoplatonists who, to some extent, adopted the views of the Averroists.(103) The latter taught that God operates externally by reason of the necessity of His nature or of His wisdom, and that there is only one intellect for all human beings.(104)

As a matter of fact, St. Thomas radically refuted pantheism by showing that there can be no accident in God, (105) that the world postulates God as its extrinsic, most simple, and absolutely immutable cause, whereas the world is essentially composite and mobile,(106) that nothing is predicated univocally of God and creatures,(107) and that creation is a most free act.(108) But all these statements have at least their philosophical foundation in the five proofs which we shall now set forth in detail, since they refer to the efficient Cause, which is extrinsic to the world, and which is absolutely simple and immutable, and therefore really and essentially distinct from the world that is changeable and composite.

Certainly the Angelic Doctor had all these points in mind when he wrote the five proofs, which we shall now carefully consider. We must preface our examination of each of the five proofs in detail by a more general statement regarding their universality and order. Are the five proofs included confusedly in this most general of demonstrations?


The five proofs given by St. Thomas are most universal in scope, being deduced from the highest metaphysical principles. The_starting point, which is also the minor, and which is previously enunciated in each of these proofs, is the fact as established in any created being whatever, namely, the fact of corporeal or spiritual motion, of causality, of contingency, of composition and imperfection, and of ordination in the passive sense. But the principle or the major in each of these a posteriori demonstrations is the principle of causality with its corollary: that there is no process to infinity in directly subordinated causes. The first proof is concerned with the supreme and efficient cause of motion, the second with conditioned causality, the third with contingency, the fourth with composite and imperfect being, and the fifth with the orderly arrangement of things in the world. The fourth and fifth proofs treat also, and especially so, of the supreme and exemplary directive cause. The terminating point of these five proofs is the existence of the self-subsisting Being, who is absolutely simple and unchangeable, and hence really and essentially distinct from the world that is composite and changeable. The ultimate objective, indeed, of no matter which of these proofs we take, is the establishing of some divine attribute, and this latter can be predicated only of the essentially self-subsisting Being.(109) The five proofs reach this summit, as constituting the supreme truth in the order of finding, from which afterward the divine attributes are deduced. This highest truth, which is also revealed ("I am who am"), is, so to speak, the golden key to the entire treatise on the one God. It is the culminating point in the way of finding and the beginning in the way of judgment, and in this transcendent truth are contained the supreme reasons of things.(110)

This must be carefully noted, because several theologians, such as Suarez,(111) not understanding these five proofs, so changed them as to deprive them of all demonstrative validity.

All these proofs are deduced from the laws of finite or created being, considered as such, inasmuch as any finite being whatever, ranging from stone to angel, in accordance with these five general aspects, is dependent on the first Cause. There is not one of these proofs that is deduced from objects of the sensible or physical order, although examples are given from objects of sense perception, since these are more known to us. This means that the starting point of these five proofs can also be facts pertaining to the intellective life, according as these are in our soul and also in the angels, that is, from intellectual and volitional movements, from their causality, from the contingency of mind, its composition and imperfection, and from the fact that either our mind or the angelic is ordained to something else as its universal truth and its universal good.(112)

Every finite being is:
The self-subsisting Being
mobile and is dependent on the first immobile mover
caused in causing and is dependent on the first uncaused cause
contingent and is dependent on the first necessary Being
composite and imperfect and is dependent on the most perfect and most simple Being
ordained to something and is dependent on the supreme Ordainer


Index Top


97. This objection is developed in the treatise on Providence; cf. Summa theol., Ia, q.22, a.2; De malo, Ia, q.49, a.2.

98. This is the principle of economy.

99. Summa theol., Ia, q.3, a.8: "Whether God enters into the composition of other things"; also Ia, q. 19, a.3: "Whether whatever God wills, He wills necessarily."

100. Ibid., Ia, q.3, a.8; q.19, a.3.

101. The identification, to be sure, of God with the world means ultimately one of two things either the absorption of God in the world, or the absorption of the world in God.

102. Summa theol., Ia, q.3, a.8; also Contra Gentes, Bk. 1, chaps. 17, 27, 28.

103. Summa theol., Ia, q. 90, a. 1; Contra Gentes, Bk. II, chap. 85.

104. Summa theol., Ia, q, tg, a.3; q.76, a.2; opusc. de unitate intellectus; Contra
Gentes, Bk. 1, chaps. 26, 27, 32, 50, 65, 81, 82, 88; Bk. II, chaps. 23-27; 31-37, 73, 76, 78, 85, 87.

105. Summa theol., Ia, q.3, a.6.

106. Ibid, a. 1-8.

107. Ibid., q. 13, a.5 f.

108. Ibid., q. 19, a.3.

109. Ibid., q.3, a.4: "Whether the essence and existence are the same in God."

110. Ibid., q.79, a.9.

111. Suarez (Disp. Met., XXIX, sec. 1, no. 7), in rejecting the necessity of the divine premotion for our will to act, does not admit the universality of the principle that whatever is set in motion, is set in motion by another. Also in not admitting a real distinction between created essence and existence, he likewise failed to understand the other proofs of St. Thomas, especially the third and fourth. It is the opinion of the Thomists that Suarez deprives these proofs of their demonstrative value.

112. See the answer to the second objection of this article; alsoIa, q.79, a.4.


"Lord, here burn, here cut, and dry up in me all that hinders me from going to You, that You may spare me in eternity."

St Louis Bertrand

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"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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"It is better to be burdened and in company with the strong than to be unburdened and with the weak. When you are burdened you are close to God, your strength, who abides with the afflicted. When you are relieved of the burden you are close to yourself, your own weakness; for virtue and strength of soul grow and are confirmed in the trials of patience."

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

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