"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



State of the question. It is asked whether there is composition of suppositum and nature in God. In the order of created things the suppositum is the complete subsisting being, of which the nature is the essential part. Thus the suppositum is really distinct from the nature, as the whole is from its principal part. Thus man is not his humanity (as stated in the second objection), but has humanity. The question is therefore, whether God is His Deity or has Deity.

Thus it becomes increasingly evident that there is a difference between the verb "to be" and the verb "to have." By this name "God" in the concrete sense, St. Thomas understands that which is, namely, suppositum or the Godhead as it connotes the individual, whether this word is previously taken to mean that He consists of three Persons or is one of the three Persons. This point is at present undetermined.

Reply. God is the same as His essence or nature. In other words, God is His Godhead and not only has the Godhead.

i) There is evidence of this on the authority of Holy Scripture, and it is a revealed truth, since Jesus said: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life." (19) He did not say: "I have truth and life," or merely: "I am true or truthful and living," but "I am the truth and the life." So that underlying the logical difference between subject and predicate, the verb "is" expresses real identity between them. Just as life, however, refers to the living being, so the Godhead refers to God. Hence God is His Godhead whereas, on the contrary, man is not His humanity, because the whole is not its part, but has its part, a point that will be more clearly explained in the body of the article.

In like manner, "God is charity,"" and not only has charity. Contrary to this, the just, whether angels or men, have charity and are not charity. It must be observed that the Council of Reims defined against Gilbert de la Porree, who denied that abstract terms can be predicated of God in the concrete: "We believe and confess that the simple nature of the Divinity is God, nor can it be denied in any Catholic sense that the Divinity is God and God is the Divinity."(12)

2) Proof from reason. In corporeal things nature differs from suppositum, just as the essential part differs from the whole, for besides the essential part there are the individualizing principles, for example, these bones and this flesh. But God is not corporeal, or composed of matter and form, but is a pure subsistent form (preceding article). And thus in God nature does not differ from suppositum. In other words, the suppositum is the subsistent form itself of the Godhead.

This proof rests upon the principle that, if affirmation is the cause of affirmation, negation is the cause of negation. But the affirmation that nature is a part of the suppositum, is the foundation for the aforesaid distinction. Therefore to deny that nature is a part of the suppositum, is to deny the aforesaid distinction. This argument is of validity provided it is properly understood.(13)

A difficulty, however, presents itself, since it seems to follow from this that, since the archangel Michael is a pure subsistent form apart from matter, he is his Michaelness. But this is false, for Michaelness is only an essential part of Michael, who in addition to this has existence and accidents.

In reply to this we say that, from the very fact that God is a pure spirit without matter, St. Thomas excludes from Him in this article individuating principles that are distinct from the common nature. In the angel, too, there are no individuating principles distinct from the nature.

But in the present article St. Thomas is not yet explicitly considering the fact that in God there is no composition of either essence and existence, or of substance and accident. This he will do in the fourth and sixth articles, in which it will be more clearly seen that God is His Godhead, because the Godhead in God is not solely an essentiall part, whereas, on the other hand, Michaelness is but an essential part in Michael, who is also a contingent being with the accidents of intellect and will. Hence Cajetan says in reference to this article: "Although this process of argumentation taken by itself can be criticized, yet when taken in conjunction with the doctrine of the subsequent articles it was found to be irreproachable, because the subsequent articles of this question exclude all composition."(14) Hence, to bring out more clearly the force of this argument it may be expressed by the following syllogism: Where nature is not a part of the suppositum they do not differ; but in God nature is not a part of the suppositum; therefore in God nature and suppositum do not differ. The major is explicitly enunciated by St Thomas in several places.(15)

Proof of minor. Since God is pure form, there are no individuating principles in addition to His nature. In fact, His existence is identical with His nature, nor is there such distinction as that between accidents and nature. Thus God and the Godhead are absolutely identical whereas, on the contrary, Peter is not his humanity, nor also, strictly speaking, is Michael his Michaelness.

But if God is His Godhead, then why the use of the concrete noun God and the abstract noun Godhead? The reply to the first objection solves this difficulty by saying: "We can speak of simple things only as though they were like the composite things from which we derive our knowledge." But the composite is the subsistent concrete thing, and its nature is spoken of in the abstract, as its essential part.



State of the question. This article, as we already pointed out, is the terminus in the ascending order by way of finding, of the five proofs for God's existence, and it is also the principle in the descending order by way of judgment, by which wisdom judges of all things by the highest of reasons and causes. We shall at once see that what St. Thomas says in this article is already a refutation of pantheism, since he gives us the reason why God is really and essentially distinct from every finite being.

But it must be well understood what is meant by existence, so as to distinguish the divine existence from existence as applied to various other things. The first objection of this article refers to this difficulty. The second objection, however, is as follows: We can know whether God exists, but we can cannot know what He is (at least know Him quiddatively). Therefore His essence is not existence.(16)

Reply. God and God alone is His existence, or in God alone are essence and existence identical.

There is at least a veiled reference to this in the Scripture, for we read: "God said to Moses: I am who am. . . . Thus shalt thou say to the children of Israel: He who is hath sent me to you." (17) This constitutes God's proper name. Creatures, however, have existence, and cannot be so named. Therefore from this it is intimated that God not only has existence but is existence, that He is His own existence.

Also truth and being are convertible terms. But Christ said: "I am the truth," and not merely: "I have truth." Therefore this supposes that He is essential being. But being derives its name from existence because being is that which exists or can exist, whose act is existence. Similarly, St. Hilary, who is quoted in the counter-argument, says: "In God existence is not an accidental quality, but subsisting truth." (18) This does not mean that existence is properly an accident of created substance, but that it is predicated contingently of the creature, though not so of God.

St Thomas replies in the body of the article by advancing three proofs from reason for his conclusion. In the first he proves that God is the first efficient cause (first and second ways); in the second, that He is pure act (third and fourth ways); in the third, that He is the first being. Thus we can truly say that in this article we have the one end expressed to which the five proofs for God's existenceby the ascending process of reasoning converge.

First proof. Essence and existence are the same in the first uncaused cause. But God is the first uncaused cause (second way). Therefore essence and existence are the same in God. The minor presents no difficulty, and it is the terminus of the second proof for God's existence.

The major is proved as follows: Whatever a thing has besides its essence must be caused either by the essential principles or by some exterior agent; but in the first uncaused cause, existence is not caused either by any other cause or by the essential principles of the thing, because "no thing is its own cause," since operation follows being; therefore existence is not something besides essence in the first uncaused cause, but is identical with it.

It cannot be said that God is cause of Himself, because to cause is to operate, and operation follows being. But it can be said that God's essence is the reason of His existence, inasmuch as He exists of Himself, is of Himself the reason for His existence. Thus this proposition, God exists, as stated above,(19) is self-evident in itself, but not to us.

Corollory. Father N del Prado rightly infers against Suarez that in all other efficient causes existence differs from essence. He says: "It belongs therefore to the nature of the first efficient cause that its essence and existence is one and the same, since the first efficient cause must of necessity have its existence uncaused; and it is of the essence of uncaused existence in a being that this is identical with its nature, which exists without being caused. Therefore . . . it must be inferred that in all other efficient causes existence differs from essence. Otherwise there would be no secondary efficient causes, and before we could establish God's existence by means of efficient cause we should also have to find out what properly belongs to an uncaused cause, namely, identity of essence and existence." (20)

Thus this first argument serves a double purpose: (1) It points out the terminus of the first, second, and third proofs for God's existence, namely, of first unmoved Mover, of first uncaused Cause, and of the first necessary Being who is His own existence, or of the self-subsisting Being. (2) It assigns the ultimate reason for the distinction between caused or created being and the uncreated Being, as also between contingent being and the necessary Being. Contingent being is a potentiality to be or not to be, because it is not its own existence, but, if it exists, has existence. There is a vast difference between the verbs "to be" and "to have." Hence it is said that "the powers tremble" with reverential fear in seeing the self-subsisting Being, because the angels are not their own existence, but only have existence, and they could be annihilated by God's absolute power.


Index Top


10. John 14: 6.

11. I John 4: 8.

12. Denz., no. 389.

13. Summa Theol., IIIa, q.2, a.2; q.4, a.2.

14. Com. in Summam theol., IIIa, q.4, a.2.

15. St.Thomas says in his Quodl. II, a.4, "Whether suppositum and nature are identicaln the angel": § 4."To whatever being anything can accrue that does not belong to the concept of its nature, in that being suppositum and nature differ . . . It is only in God that His essence excludes the presence of anything accidental because His existence is His essence. Therefore suppositum and nature are absolutely the same in God. In the case of an angel, however, these are not absolutely the same, because there accrues to an angel something that does not
belong the species as such, for an angel's essence or nature does not include existence and there are certain other accidental notes in an angel (contingent thoughts and volitions), and these do not belong to the nature but to the suppositum."

16. Concerning this article, cf. Norbert del Prado, O.P., De veritate fundamentali philosophiae christianae, p. 89; also pp. 20, 60.

17. Ex. 3: 14.

18. De Trinitate, Bk. VII, chap.1.

19. Summa theol., Ia, q. 2, a.1.

20. Del Prado, op. cit., p 320.



"What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? Indeed it is not learning that makes a man holy and just, but a virtuous life makes him pleasing to God. "

Thomas Kempis

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"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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"Whom do you seek, friend, if you seek not God? Seek him, find him, cleave to him; bind your will to his with bands of steel and you will live always at peace in this life and in the next."

St Alphonsus de Liguori

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