"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.


Question 4: The Perfection of God

This question contains three articles: (I) whether God is perfect; (2) whether the perfections of all things are in God; (3) whether creatures can be said to be like God. The third article contains the fundamentals of the teaching of analogy between God and creatures, and under this aspect it concerns the present question, namely, whether God is so perfect that no creature can be like Him.



State of the question. The title, as Cajetan observes, does not mean: whether God has some perfection; for the various perfections are discussed subsequently. Nor does it mean: whether God possesses all perfections, since this point is discussed in the second article. The question is whether God is pre-eminently that which He is, for instance, pre-eminently the efficient cause.

Reply. God is most perfect. The conclusion is of faith, for Jesus says: "Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect."(1) The same is affirmed in very many texts of Holy Scripture. The Vatican Council affirms it in these words: "The holy Church believes that there is one God ... infinite in all perfections ... who, to manifest His perfection by the blessings which He bestows on creatures, with absolute freedom created them." (2)

Proof from reason. In the body of the article it is proved that God is most perfect for the reason that God is the first active principle, whereas, on the contrary, the ancient philosophers of Ionia thought that the first principle of all things is something material (water, air, or fire) and hence most imperfect, nay even absolute evolutionism, in which by an ascendant process of evolution the water is produced from the less.

The argument of St. Thomas is reduced to this syllogism: The first active principle must needs be most actual and hence most perfect; but God is the first active principle (second way); therefore God is most actual. The major is proved from the fact that the agent, as such, is in actuality; for if any agent needs to be premoved so as to act, inasmuch as it is moved it is mobile as regards a higher agent; but as an agent it is already in actuality, as in the case of water which heats, not inasmuch as it becomes hot, but inasmuch as it is already hot. From this we see that the supreme agent is most actual and motionless, and hence most perfect. For, as stated at the end of the body of this article: "We call that perfect which lacks nothing of the mode of its perfection."

It must be observed that, according to the opinion of several historians of philosophy, Aristotle (3) held that God is only the final but not the efficient cause of the world, because, in explaining how the first mover is immobile, he gives the example of the end, which, although it is immobile, attracts other things to itself. But it does not follow from this that Aristotle denied that God is the efficient cause of the world, as if the immobile agent could not move others. On the contrary, he said on several occasions that an agent, inasmuch as it is an agent, is in actuality; for nothing is reduced from potentiality to actuality except by a being that is in actuality. Thus the agent, as an agent, already is in actuality and so is perfect. Hence the supreme agent is most in actuality and most perfect.

In the reply to the third objection it is remarked that the existence of anything is not only more perfect than matter, but also more perfect than form, for it is its ultimate actuality. But God is unreceived or subsisting existence; therefore He is most perfect. St. Thomas, like an eagle that makes the same circular flight several times high up in the air, always returns to the same supreme truth. He makes it the object not only of direct contemplation (by ascending from one fact to be explained) and of oblique (in spiral form), but also of circular.(4)



State of the question. It concerns all perfections, whether these include no imperfection or admit an admixture of imperfection. The difficulty is (1) that God is absolutely simple whereas the perfections of things are manifold; (2) that, in fact, there are several perfections of things which are in opposition to one another, for example, opposite differentiae in the same genus, and they cannot be at the same time in the same subject; (3) that God's essence is His existence, but life and intelligence are more perfect than existence.

The conclusion, however, is: all created perfections are in God . This truth is affirmed in equivalent terms in many texts of Holy Scripture, and they are not difficult to find. Such are: "All things were made by Him, and without Him was made nothing that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men." (5) "For of Him and by Him and in Him are all things." (6)

Two proofs from reason are given for the conclusion: (i) because God is the first effective cause of things; (2) because He is the self-subsisting Being.

1) Whatever perfection exists in an effect must pre-exist in the agent, and in a more eminent way in the supreme agent. But God is, the supreme agent, the effective cause of all things. Therefore the perfections of all things pre-exist in God in a more eminent way.

Molina ought to have taken note of the major of this argument; for whatever perfection there is even in the free determination of our choice pre-exists in the supreme agent, and this free determination of ours cannot exist externally to God unless it is in a relation of dependent causality to Him.

If anyone objects that the plant reaches the perfection of its growth from an imperfect shoot, and that the animal is developed from the seed, we must reply that the seed is but the instrumental cause of the agent. It is not indeed the seed of the ox that generates the ox, but the fully developed ox by means of the seed generates an ox; in like manner the fully grown plant by means of the shoot generates a plant like itself in species; for it is only the fully developed that generate. Otherwise the greater would be produced from the less, and this more of being would have no reason for its existence. Therefore it is a common saying among theologians that after creation there are more beings but not more of being or perfection, because whatever perfection is in the effect pre-existed in a more eminent way in the first eternal cause. Thus the validity of the notion of efficient cause in its relation to the first Cause becomes increasingly clear.

2) The conclusion is proved also from the principle that God is the self-subsisting Being. The perfections of all created things are included in the perfection of being, for a thing is perfect in that it has being, for instance, in that there is in it either solely corporeity, or life, whether this is vegetative, sensitive, or intellectual; for being is the actuality of all these things; in fact, the existence of intellection is its actuality. But since God is the self-subsisting Existence, He has in Himself the whole perfection of being. Therefore God contains in Himself the perfection of all things.

If He did not have the whole perfection of being, then He would have only participated being, and would not be essentially the self subsisting Being. Thus "if heat were self-subsisting, nothing of the virtue of heat would be wanting to it"; self-subsisting heat would. have the whole perfection of heat.

Reply to first objection. All these perfections, because they are in God in a more eminent way, are in Him without detriment to His simplicity. Thus white light contains eminently whatever perfection there is in the seven colors of the rainbow; yet it contains them only virtually and eminently (in that it can produce them) whereas the Deity contains formally and eminently absolutely simple perfections, a point that will be more clearly brought out in subsequent articles.(7) Whereas white light is neither azure blue no, red, the Deity is formally and eminently real, one, true, good ... and, moreover, it contains mixed perfections, such as rationality virtually and eminently. Now, indeed, visual sensation contains in a unified form a great variety of sensible objects, and scientific synthesis contains many experiences, for what is divided in thing of the lower order is found united in those of the higher order. Similarly our soul, although simple, is vegetative, sensitive, an. intellective.(8)

Reply to third objection. Although participated being, as in a stone, is without life and intelligence, the self-subsisting Being, in that He is plenitude itself of being, contains life and intelligence. And therefore this can be what constitutes the divine nature according to our imperfect mode of conceiving it. "Nothing of the perfection of being can be wanting to Him who is subsisting being itself."



State of the question. The meaning of the title is, as Cajetan remarks, whether God's perfection is so great that no creature can be like Him. It concerns likeness to Him as He is the first Being and the first Cause, and not as He is the triune God; nor is it concerned with this special likeness that is called image, for this is discussed elsewhere.(9) We are concerned here with the general likeness that is found in every created being. This article contains the fundamentals of the doctrine about the analogy between God and the creature as explained in a subsequent article. (10)

The difficulties that present themselves are the following: (1) that God and the creature are not contained even in a genus, therefore they are absolutely different; (2) that they do not communicate in any form, which is the foundation for similitude; (3) that, if the creature were said to be like God, then it could be said that God is like the creature, which seems to be inappropriate and contrary to Scripture.(11)

The conclusion, however, is: all created beings, so far as they are beings, are like God; moreover, in many this likeness is in life and intelligence. Not infrequently Holy Scripture speaks of this likeness, even of the likeness according to image, as when it says: "Let us make man to our image and likeness." (12)

About this question we should note what the Fourth Lateran Council says: "The similarity which we note between the Creator and the creature cannot be so great as to prevent us from detecting a greater dissimilarity."(13) Moreover, this statement is made about the similarity of grace, and in this sense the Scripture says: "Be you therefore perfect (by grace) as also your heavenly Father is perfect (by nature).(14) In this text of the Fourth Lateran Council we have a quasi definition of analogy between God and creatures, and this text is more in conformity with the Thomist definition of analogy than it is with the Suarezian. According to St. Thomas and the Thomists: things, that are analogous are those having a common name, but the idea signified by the name is simply different in each them, and relatively or proportionately the same; thus being is predicated of essential being, of substantial being that is produced by another, and of accident. On the contrary, according to the principle of Suarez: "things that are analogous are those having a
common name, but the idea signified by the name is simply the same in each of them, and relatively different.(15) To this the Thomists reply by asking why the Fourth Lateran Council therefore had said: "The similarity which we note between the Creator and the creature cannot be so great as to prevent us from detecting a greater dissimilarity." Moreover, animality, which is predicated univocally of the lion and the worm, is simply the same and relatively different in them; analogical similarity, however, is less than univocal similarity.

Lastly, the Vatican Council says: "Reason enlightened by faith when it seeks earnestly, piously, and calmly, attains by a gift of God to some . . . understanding of mysteries; partly from the analogy of those things which it naturally knows, partly from the relations which the mysteries bear to one another. ..." (16) Therefore the analogy that prevails between God and the creature is a certainty; in fact, its certainty is that of faith.

The conclusion is proved from reason in the body of the article by one argument which is founded on causality. But first of all, by way of introduction, St. Thomas distinguishes between three kinds of likeness.

Likeness is of three kinds: (i) of form which is of the same formality and of the same mode, as two things equally white, or two grown-up men; (2) of form which is of the same formality but not of the same mode, as something less white is like something more white, or as the boy is like the man; (3) of form but not according to the same formality, as between the effect and the non-univocal agent, or as prevails in things of a higher nature, as in the subordination of causes.(17) Thus, inasmuch as the intellective life arouses the action of the sensitive life, as when the intellect by a rational process arranges in an orderly manner the phantasms and words for the expression of some syllogism, then the verbal expression, which previously exists in the imagination, is indeed rationable, but by participation, being dependent on the reason as directing it. Thus the rationability of the verbal expression and the rationability of the conception or judgment are alike according to form but not according to the same formality; there is indeed unlikeness on the part of the one directing and of that which is directed. Thus rationability is primarily in prudence and secondarily by participation in the virtues of fortitude and temperance by which the sensitive appetite is directed by reason. In like manner and with greater reason, order is not according to the same formality in the supreme Ordainer of the universe and in the natural agents which are directed by Him to a certain end (fifth way).

Thus likeness is of three kinds: (i) univocal and according to the same mode; (2) univocal and not according to the same mode, as between the boy and the man; (3) non-univocal, which is not either according to species or according to genus, but is analogical.

With these preliminary observations, the conclusion is proved by one argument as follows: every agent reproduces itself, either specifically or generically or at least analogically; but God, who is not contained in a genus, is the efficient cause of creatures; therefore creatures are analogically like God.

For some the major, like the experimental laws, is evident only by induction, in so far as a man generates a man, an ox generates an ox, and a plant one like itself in species. Yet, in truth, this major is more than an experimental law; it is a principle that is directlyknown from the analysis of the terms; for to act is to determine or reduce from potentiality to actuality, from indetermination to determination; for actuality is the principle of determination. But a thing can determine only according to its own determination; hence the common saying: every agent acts inasmuch as it is in actuality, and it is in actuality by means of its form. Thus a man generates a man, and a body that is hot makes another hot. Hence St. Thomas says in this article: "Since every agent reproduces itself so far as it is an agent, and everything acts according to the manner of its form, the effect must resemble the form of the agent." This principle is self-evident from an analysis of the terms.

But this principle is applied in various ways in accordance with the previous remarks, namely: (1) If the agent is contained in the same species with the effect, there is likeness according to the same formality of the species; (2) if the agent is not contained in the species, but in the same genus, then there is only generic likeness. The old example of the sun is here given. Nowadays we can say: There are various effects of heat, since it expands metals, produces the fusion of solids and the evaporation of liquids. In like manner, there are various effects of electricity and magnetism, and these effects are not specifically but generically like the cause. Thus electricity produces local motion, atmospheric changes, chemical combinations ...;(3) lastly, if the agent is not contained in any genus, "its effects will still more distantly reproduce the form of the agent," that is, not specifically or generically, but analogically.

The minor, however, was proved in a previous article,(18) in which it was shown that God, who is not in any genus, is the efficient cause of all creatures. Therefore creatures are analogically like God, at least inasmuch as they are beings. Many creatures, too, are like God in life (as plants), in intellect (as our soul), and the just are like God according to His intimate life or His Deity.

Being indeed is that which exists or can exist; in other words, it is that whose act is to exist. But it is not predicated according to absolutely the same formality of the self-subsisting Being, of the caused substantial being, and of its accidents. Of these three it is predicated proportionately or according to a similarity of proportions. Thus God is to His existence as the created substantial being is proportionately to its existence. Thus the likeness is true and not merely metaphorical (as when it is said that God is angry), but it is according to the proper meaning of the name "being."

However, as the Fourth Lateran Council said: A greater dissimilarity is to be noted" in that God is the self-subsisting Being, whereas created substance is not its own existence, but has existence in itself, and accident has existence in another. When we shall see God face to face, then it will be clearly seen that creatures are as if they do not exist in comparison with God, as St. Augustine often says.

This means that the analogous perfection cannot be perfectly abstracted from the analogates(19) because it expresses a likeness of proportions, and this cannot be conceived by the mind without having actual and explicit concepts of the members of the proportionality. Being is that which exists either of itself, or in itself, though dependent on another, or in another that is dependent on some other.

Contrary to this, the genus (for instance, animality) can be perfectly abstracted from the species, because it is diversified by differentiae that are extrinsic to it. Thus animal signifies what is simply one and the same; the living body signifies the sensitive life, whereas being signifies what is proportionately one. The analogical concept can be represented by 8, and the universal concept by o.(20) There is a certain intrinsic variety in the analogical concept; for every mode of being is still being, whereas the differentia of animality, for example, rationality, is not animality.

Objection. Being abstracts perfectly from the modes of being in that it is defined as that which exists independently of its modes (id quod est independenter ab his modalitalibus). In like manner, "knowledge" is the union of the one knowing with the thing known or of subject and object without any reference to sensation and intellection. The same applies to "love" and "cause" in reference to first cause and second cause: for the efficient cause is that from which another being comes into existence.

Reply. This seems to be so if the words of the definition are considered only materially, but it is not so if they are taken in their formal sense; for these very words of the definition of being are analogous; namely, id is predicated analogically, as also are quod and est. The same must be said of other definitions, such as those of cause, knowledge, love. Cause is predicated analogically of the four causes, as it is also of the first efficient Cause and of the
secondary cause. In like manner, although our cognitive faculties are univocal as faculties in the genus of quality, as they are cognitive, they are analogous. Thus knowledge can be attributed analogically to God, and the same applies to love.

It is already quite clear from St. Thomas' own Words that being and existence are not predicated of God and creatures purely "according to the same formality," but proportionately, as stated at stated at end of the body of the article. And what is said here of existence applies to all absolutely simple perfections, and this will have to be discussed in a subsequent article (q. 13, a. 5). Thus it applies to the intellect that is specified by intelligible being, and to the will that s specified by good.

Reply to second objection. God is related to creatures as the principle of all genera.

Reply to third objection. Likeness of creatures to God is therefore "solely according to analogy, inasmuch as God is essential being, whereas other things are beings by participation."

Reply to fourth objection. Although the creature is like God, God is not like the creature, because there is no real relation of God to creatures, but only of creatures to God; for God does not depend on creatures, nor is He in the same order. Thus the image is said to be like Caesar, but Caesar is not said to be like his image; "When two extremes are not of one order, in one of the extremes the relation is a reality, and in the other it is an idea." (21) Thus knowledge refers to the knowable, but the knowable thing, as a thing, is outside the order of intelligibility, and does not refer to knowledge. (22) Thus all creatures are ordered to God, but God is not ordered to creatures.(23)


Index Top


1. Matt. 5: 48.

2. Denz., no. 1782.

3. Metaph., Bk. XII, chap. 6.

4. Summa theol., IIa IIae, q. 180, a.6.

5. John1: 3 f.

6. Rom. 11: 36; see also Ex. 33: 19; Ps. 93: 9.

7. Summa theol.,Ia, q. 13, a.2-5.

8. The rational soul is not only virtually, but also formally and eminently vegetative and sensitive, because it not only can produce the principle of the vegetative and sensitive lives, but is in us the radical principle of these lives.

9. Summa theol., Ia, q.93.

10. Ibid., q.13, a.5.

11. Isv. 40: 18.

12. Gen 1:26

13. Denz. no. 432.

14. Matt. 5: 48.

15. Suarez indeed says (Dish. Metaph. 2, § 2, no. 34): "Now I merely assert that everything which has been said concerning the unity of the concept of being, appears to be clearer and more certain than that being is analogous. Therefore, in order to defend analogy, it is not right to deny the unity of the concept; but if one of the two is to be denied, it is analogy, which is uncertain, that is to be denied rather than unity of concept, which seems to be demonstrated by sound arguments

16. Denz., no. 1796.

17. According to the physics of ancient times, heat in the sun differs in formality from that in other bodies. This is no longer admitted; but there are other examples.

18. Summa theol., Ia, q.3, a.5.

19. Cf. Cajetan, De analogia nominum, chap. 5.

20. These signs are merely arbitrary. (See, God, His Existence, II, 205.) What the author seeks to show is that being, as predicated of various things, is proportionately the same, whereas the univocal concept is the same in those things of which it is predicated. Hence being is analogical in concept, whereas animal is univocal. Rationality is extrinsic to the notion of animal, but not to the notion of being. (Tr.)

21. Ibid., a.7.

22. Conversely, there is a real and mutual relation if the two extremes are of the same order, as between father and son, as also between two brothers who are sons of the same father; this is especially so if one extreme is dependent on the other, as is the son on the father.

23. Summa theol., Ia, q. 13, a.7.



"For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God?"

Thomas Kempis

* * *

"A person who rails at God in adversity, suffers without merit; moreover by his lack of resignation he adds to his punishment in the next life and experiences greater disquietude of mind in this life."

St Alphonsus de Liguori

* * *

"The more you know and the better you understand, the more severely will you be judged, unless your life is also the more holy. Do not be proud, therefore, because of your learning or skill. Rather, fear because of the talent given you."

Thomas Kempis

* * *