"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.


The Simplicity of God


Concerning God we must consider what He is and how He is, or rather how He is not for in this life we cannot know His essence, since this would be to see the Deity(1) Hence we inquire how God is not, by removing from Him what does not apply to Him, such as composition and motion. Thus we must treat of God's simplicity, perfection, infinity, immutability, and unity. But we shall afterward see how God is known and named by us.

This question of God's simplicity starts out by excluding from Him what is known as physical composition, or of really distinct parts. In the first four articles it is established: (I) that God is not a body; (2) that He is not composed of matter and form; (3) nor of nature and suppositum; (4) nor of essence and existence. Then what is known as metaphysical composition, which consists of genus and differentia, is excluded in the fifth article.

Finally, it is shown that there is no accident in God (a. 6), that God is altogether simple (a. 7), and that He does not enter into the composition of other things, either as form or matter, since He is the extrinsic cause, which means that He is the efficient and final cause of all things (a. 8). In these last three articles we have the refutation of pantheism, and they are the result of the conclusions of what was established in the fourth article, namely, that only God is the self-subsisting Being. This fourth article contains the dominating principle of this question, that is, it is the terminus in the terminus in the ascending order by way of investigation, and the beginning in the descending order by way of judgment, since wisdom judges of all things by the highest of reasons.



State of the question. A body is defined as a substance that is extended according to three dimensions. But Holy Scripture speaks metaphorically of God's arm, right hand . . . , as pointed out in the beginning of this article, and we must carefully distinguish between the metaphorical and literal senses in Holy Scripture. Tertullian did not sufficiently observe this distinction. But among philosophers Spinoza, as a pantheist, maintains that extension is an attribute of God, and he admits that it is infinite.

The reply, which is de fide, is as follows: God is a spirit and therefore is not a body. Jesus said to the Samaritan woman: "God is a spirit, and they that adore Him, must adore Him in spirit and truth." (2) Similarly St. Paul says: "The invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made." (3) Preaching to the Athenians, he said: "We must not suppose the divinity to be like unto gold or silver or stone, the graving of art and device of man." (4) The Vatican Council says: "The Holy Catholic Church believes that there is one true and living God . . . absolutely simple and immutable spiritual substance." (5)

Three proofs from reason are given, that God is not a body. The first proof discusses the body as a physical entity; in the second proof the quantitative aspect is considered; in the third proof the metaphysical element is stressed.

First proof. No body is in motion unless it is put in motion; but God is the first unmoved Mover (first way); therefore God is not a body. Against the major there is the difficulty of attraction, since the magnet attracts other bodies to itself, although it is not itself set in motion. In reply to this we say that, although the magnet has this property of attraction, its action is not its own, its power to act is not its action; for this it would have to be its own being, because operation follows being, and the mode of operation the mode of being. Therefore the magnet is moved invisibly by the first Mover, at least as a qualitative motion. Moreover, as Cajetan observes, the magnet can also be moved locally, and every moving body is moved at least as in potentiality for this, since it is by nature apt to be moved, and this suffices to distinguish it from the absolutely immobile first mover (this immobility not being that of inertia but of perfection), which is the terminus of the first way in proving God's existence. Hence the major can be construed as meaning: every body is mobile. But God is the first immobile Mover. Therefore He is not a body.

Second proof. It considers rather the quantitative aspect in bodies, inasmuch as the parts are continuous. Every body is in potentiality, at least because the continuous is divisible to infinity. But God is pure act and there is absolutely no potentiality in Him,. Therefore God is not a body.(6)

The minor is proved as follows: actuality is, absolutely speaking, prior to potentiality, for whatever is in potentiality can be reduced into actuality only by some being in actuality; but God is the first Being, as established in the fourth way of proving God's existence; therefore God is pure Act.(7) Every potentiality presupposes actuality, for every being that is in potentiality expresses a relation to actuality, and cannot be reduced into actuality except by a being that is in act. Therefore the supreme Being is in no way in potentiality.

Third proof. It considers the metaphysical aspect in bodies. The noblest of all beings cannot be a body; but God is the noblest of all beings, as established in the fourth way of proving God's existence; therefore God is not a body.

The major is proved by showing that corporeity is something inferior. For a body is either living or non-living, and a living body is nobler than a non-living body; thus the ant is, absolutely speaking nobler than a heavenly body. Moreover, the principle of life in a living body is nobler than the body as such. To put it more briefly, life is something nobler than corporeity, otherwise every body would be a living body. Vegetative life and sensitive life come from the specific form in the living body; this form, however, is not a body, but vivifies the body.(8) From this third argument, as also from the other two, it is proved, indeed, that God is not a body; but this does not as yet prove that God is not the form of a body, so that He might be the soul of the world. This is proved, however, in the following articles, especially in the eighth article.

In reply to the objections, St. Thomas explains the metaphors of Holy Scripture, when it speaks of the height or the depth of God and of His knowledge.



State of the question. According to St. Thomas, everything composed of matter and form is a body, as he affirms in the counter-argument. But in Avicebron's opinion there is a composite of matter and form that is not a body, because this philosopher said that even spiritual substances are composed of spiritual matter and form. Perhaps he said this so as to explain their individuation, and thus there could be several angels of the same species. Contrary to this, St. Thomas is of the opinion that the only composition in created spiritual substances is that of essence and existence, and of substance and accident. Each of them is a subsistent and immaterial form, and hence there cannot be two angels of the same species.

The conclusion of the article states the impossibility of matter existing in God. The proofs for this are given by considering: (i) matter in itself; (2) matter in its relation to its participated form; (3) matter in its relation to the action of the first agent.

First proof. Matter is in potentiality. But God is pure act, as stated in the preceding article, because He is the first being, the maximum in being (fourth way). Therefore God is immaterial. This article is expressed according to Aristotle's terminology.

Second proof. Here Plato's terminology concerning participation is more in evidence. Everything composed of matter and form is a participated good, or a participated form in matter; but God, inasmuch as He is the greatest good, is the essential good (fourth way); therefore God is not composed of matter and form.

Third proof. It starts from the principle that God is primarily and essentially an agent. Since the agent acts by its form, the manner in which it has its form is the manner in which it is an agent. But God, since He is the first agent (second way), is primarily and essentially a form, but not composed of matter and form.

The major is evident from the fact that the agent acts by its form, that is, the form is the reason of its acting; for to act is to determine, to actuate, and it is only by reason of its own determination that any being can determine. Thus fire heats and water cools. Hence it is said that the agent acts inasmuch as it is in act, and it is in act by means of its form, primarily by its substantial form from which the natural qualities originate.

Minor. God, being the first agent, is primarily and essentially an agent, which means that He is not moved by some higher power, but is of Himself essentially and immediately operative, just as the triangle of itself and immediately (or essentially and primarily) has three angles equal to two right angles. But this is a necessary property of the triangle, whereas God, as we shall see farther on,(9) is free in His external operations.

There arises a difficulty from this third argument. It seems that we can conclude only that God has essentially and primarily a form that is the reason of His action, but not that He is essentially and primarily a form. There is considerable difference between the verb "to be" and the verb "to have." Thus fire essentially and primarily generates heat, because it has essentially and primarily heat, but it is not heat.

In reply to this we say with Cajetan: It can truly be concluded that God is primarily and essentially a form, because He is primarily and essentially an agent, and not dependent upon any other being. For if God were an agent who, by reason of His form, constituted a part of a composite, He would not be primarily and
essentially an agent; for action in this sense could be attributed to all that participate in such a form. Thus fire is not, strictly speaking essentially and primarily generative of heat, because it is not it not heat, but participates in heat. If fire were unreceived heat, then, just as in the case of unreceived or subsistent heat, it would be unique of its kind. Hence St. Thomas' argument holds good. From the fact that God is primarily and essentially an agent, it follows that He is primarily and essentially a form not received in matter. This is also evident, as was said, from the fact that God is pure act and essential good. Thus God is pure spirit.

In the replies to the objections St. Thomas explains the metaphorical use of terms in Holy Scripture, when discussing the questions of a soul and of anger in God. It is said in the reply to the third objection: "The form which cannot be received in matter,is individualized precisely because it cannot be received in a subject."

Hence God is an unreceived and unreceptive form. We shall see in the fourth article that God is also the unreceived and unreceptive being, and in the sixth article that He is the unreceived being because He cannot be the recipient of accidents. Thus what is meant by participation and unparticipated being is made increasingly clear, and we already find this vaguely presented to us in the writings of Plato.


Index Top


1. Wayfarers, as regards the Deity, since they have not the adequate concept of this, but know it only in name, are like men who would have seen the seven colors and never have seen whiteness; this latter they would know only in name, and they would understand that by this name is implied the origin of colors. Thus for wayfarers the Deity is the root of all divine perfections that are naturally participable and knowable. The Deity is participable only by grace, and the participation is physical, formal, and analogous.

2. John 4: 24.

3. Rom. 1: 20.

4. Acts 17: 29.

5. Denz., no. 1782.

6. The major is explained by St. Thomas in his commentary on Aristotle's Physics Bk VI, chaps. 1 f., where he discusses especially the question of the continuous.

7. This had already been clearly proved by Aristotle in his Metaphysics, Bk. XII, chap 7.

8. Summa Theol., Ia, q.75, a.1.

9. Ibid., q. 19, a.3.



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