"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 Vatican Council refers to the various types of modern pantheism. "If anyone shall say that the substance and essence of God and of all things is one and the same; let him be anathema." (70) Here we have pantheism in general. Then the Council condemns emanatism in the following terms: "If anyone shall say that finite things, both corporeal and spiritual, or at least spiritual, have emanated from the divine substance; let him be anathema." (71)

Here we have descendent emanatism in which God exists with all His perfections prior to the world, and He then becomes the world, since the world emanates from Him. Thus God would be capable of further determination, and thus He would not be the pure Act, at least He would have accidents. After this the pantheism of Schelling is condemned, in which God still becomes the world: "If anyone shall say that the divine essence by the manifestation and evolution of itself becomes all things; let him be anathema." (72)

Finally pantheism of universal being is condemned, and it is especially this type that was proposed by Hegel. It is evolution of the ascendant order; hence in this type it is rather the world that becomes God: "If any one shall say that God is universal or indefinite being, which by determining itself constitutes the universality of things, distinct according to genera, species, and individuals; let him be anathema." (73)

The various types of pantheism are refuted by one and the same principle already formulated by St. Thomas.(74) It is thus expressed by the Vatican Council: "God, as being one, sole, absolutely simple, and immutable spiritual substance, is to be declared as really and essentially distinct from the world . . . and ineffably exalted above all things." (75) The reference is to a real distinction. God and creatures are not one being but many beings, although after creation there is not more being, namely, more perfection. The reference is not only to a real but to an essential distinction, since the divine nature infinitely transcends other natures.

The Vatican Council (76) confirms the condemnation of pantheism by its definition of the absolutely free creation of all things, both corporeal and spiritual, from nothing and not from God's substance. Pantheism is absolute determinism, which is a denial of both divine and human liberty, and hence of the distinction between moral good and moral evil, of merit and demerit. It excludes the moral life from man, just as it excludes true personality from him.

But previous to this, the Syllabus of Pius IX had clearly set forth the contradiction in pantheism, condemning the following formula propounded by it: God is one and the same thing with the world, and, therefore, spirit with matter, necessity with liberty, good with evil, justice with injustice." (77) It would follow from this, of course, that all things in the world, even the gravest errors and crimes, would be, with the destruction of contingency and liberty, necessary moments of universal evolution, in which nothing could be absolutely and simply true; but there would be something that is relatively true and good in the present state of knowledge and of ethics, which would be followed by an opposite state or antithesis, which again would be succeeded by a superior synthesis, and so on in succession. There would be nothing stable, not even the principle of contradiction or of identity, because the fundamental reality would be this universal becoming, which would be its own reason for such. Contrary to this, it must be said that the greater does not come from the less, and what is already in existence is greater than what is becoming. Hence there is an eternally self-existing Being, who is the self-subsisting Being, who said of Himself: "I am who am." (78)

It must be noted that certain theses of the ontologists savor somewhat of pantheism, and for this reason they were condemned. Such are the following propositions: "That being, which is in all things and without which nothing is understood by us, is the divine being. Universals considered in the concrete are not really distinct from God." (79) In this way universal being is confused with the divine being, and universal truth with the divine truth. . . . The same is to be said of certain propositions propounded by Antonio Rosmini.(80)

All these declarations are a confirmation for us that the fundamental truth of Christian philosophy is, that God alone is the self-subsisting Being, that essence and existence are identical only in God. The first truth by way of investigation is the principle of identity: being is being, not-being is not-being. The supreme truth by way of investigation and the first by way of judgment is: God alone is His existence, so that He is really and essentially distinct from any other being whatever.


In every error there is a distortion of some part of the truth. Yet it is there not as "the soul of truth," but rather as the servant of error, because it serves to seduce or deceive the intellect. Thus in pantheism it is, as it were, the grain of truth that is distorted. This is most apparent in the natural order.

(1) There is nothing that is not, as to the whole of its being, caused by God.(81)

(2) There is nothing that is not preserved by God, for the being of things is the proper effect of God. Just as the becoming ceases when the cause of any becoming ceases to act, so when the cause of the being of things ceases to act, the being of things would cease to exist, just as the light in the air disappears when the sun ceases to give us its light, or just as there is no longer evidence in the conclusions when there is a cessation of evidence in the principles, or just as the means to the end lose their attraction for us when the end ceases to attract us.(82)

(3) There is not any being in existence to which God is not intimately present, contacting it by His power, and keeping it in existence.(83) Thus God is intimately present in all things, and is even more intimately present to our soul than it is to itself, for He moves it to acts that are more intimate and pro¬found to which it could not move itself.

(4) God operates in every agent, not to dispense the creature from acting, as the occasionalists think, but to apply it to action. (84)

(5) God moves every intellect,(85) and immediately moves the created will(86) but He does no violence to it for He moves it interiorly in accordance with its inclination for universal good, and He moves it to a particular good which can be the object of its deliberate choice; or He permits sin, and then He is the cause only of the physical entity of the act of sin, but not of the sin itself as it is a defect, for which only a deficient cause is needed.

Thus there is nothing real and good external to God that is not related to Him as causally dependent on Him. Even the free determination of our will, inasmuch as it is something real and good, cannot be external to God so as not to be in a relation of dependence on Him. Thus the fruit of the tree comes all from the tree as from its secondary cause, and all from God as its first cause; so also my choice, inasmuch as it is real and good, is all from God as first cause and all from myself as secondary cause. Thus God is present in all things by a virtual contact, keeping them in being, and He operates in every agent applying it to its act.

It is this truth which pantheism distorts. This truth is strikingly affirmed by St. Thomas, although he absolutely rejects pantheism, since God is neither the material cause nor the formal cause of the world, nor its necessary and efficient cause, but its absolutely transcendent and free efficient cause.

Then after our elevation to the order of grace, the intimacy of our union with God is increased, since habitual grace is a formal and physical, although analogical, participation in the Deity, or in God's intimate life, so that we are like to Him not only in being, life, and intelligence, but in the very Deity. Thus a soul in the state of grace is the temple in which the most Holy Trinity dwells, dwelling indeed in the blessed as clearly seen by them, but dwelling in us as obscurely known.

Finally, the union of the divine and human natures in Christ is the greatest that can be. The union is substantial and personal, so that there is only one person and one existence. However, there is not the least trace of pantheism in this, for there is an infinite distinction between the two natures and without any confusion of the natures. All these truths are strikingly affirmed by St. Thomas.

Moreover, in none of the teachings of Catholic theologians is the truth more clearly expressed than in Thomism, namely, that God is distinct from the world, and yet He is most intimately present to it by His efficacious influx. The doctrine of analogy as set forth by St. Thomas (87) brings out far more clearly, indeed, the distinction between God and the world than does univocation of being, which is admitted by Scotus, and which is retained to some extent by Suarez.(88) On the other hand, St. Thomas stresses the intimacy of divine motion in us more than Scotus does, and he stresses especially its efficacy more than Suarez and Molina do.(89)

Thus we terminate the question of God's simplicity. The principles enunciated here about being can easily be applied to cognition and volition, by treating of the most eminent simplicity of God's wisdom and love.(90) But this will be discussed in subsequent questions.(91)


Index Top


70. Ibid., no. 1803.

71. Ibid., no. 1804, § 1i.

72 Ibid., § 2.

73 Ibid., § 3. On this point see Vacant, Etudes sur le Concile du Vatican, I, 212 f., 581.

74. Summa theol., Ia, q.3, a.7, 8.

75. Denz., no. 1782.

76. Ibid., no. 1805.

77. Ibid, no. 1701.

78. Ex. 3:14.

79. Denz., nos. 1660 f.

80. Ibid., nos. 1894-99.

81. Summa theol., Ia, q.45, a-5.

82. Ibid., q. 104, a. 1, 2.

83. Ibid., q.8, a. 1.

84. Ibid., q.105, a.5.

85. Ibid., a.3.

86. Ibid., a.4.

87. Ibid., q.13, a.5.

88. Disp Met., Disp. II, sect. 2, no. 34..

89. Some have said that Thomism is pantheism in disguise. This could be said with greater truth about univocation of being, and the denial of a real distinction between created essence and existence. "A slight error in the beginning is great in the end."

90. We have explained this in another work; see Providence, pp.79-90.

91. Summa theol., Ia, q. 14, 19 f.




"It is vanity to be concerned with the present only and not to make provision for things to come."

Thomas Kempis

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

St Augustine

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"The essence of perfection is to embrace the will of God in all things, prosperous or adverse. In prosperity, even sinners find it easy to unite themselves to the divine will; but it takes saints to unite themselves to God's will when things go wrong and are painful to self-love. Our conduct in such instances is the measure of our love of God."

St Alphonsus de Liguori

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