"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.



State of the question. It seems that not every being is good, for good adds perfection and desirableness to being. Matter, however, is being, but it has not the aspect of desirableness. Likewise Aristotle says: "In mathematics goodness does not exist." (15)

The conclusion, however, is: Every being, as being, is good.

This doctrine is of faith against the Manichaeans, who said that some beings are good, and some are evil, in accordance with their error of a twofold principle. The Scripture says: "And God saw all the things that He had made, and they were very good." (16)

The conclusion is proved from reason as follows:

Perfect presents the aspect of what is desirable and good; (17) but every being, inasmuch as it is being, is actual and in some way perfect; therefore every being, inasmuch as it is being, is good.

This means to say, as remarked above,"' that every being is such simply and good relatively, in that it has at least its essence and existence, even though it is not good simply. Thus every wine, provided it still is wine and not vinegar, can be said to be good, or not corrupt, although it is not the best of wine.

Reply to first objection. Good does not contract being to any of the predicamental modes, that is, it does not limit being to any category, such as substance, quantity however, goodness is a transcendental mode of being that is not so universal as being itself. For being applies also to unity and truth.

Reply to second objection. Evil is the privation of any good that is due to any subject.

Reply to third objection. Prime matter is being in potentiality and good in potentiality. Moreover, it implies goodness for the composite to have its matter, which cannot exist without it.

Reply to fourth objection. "In mathematics goodness does not exist," because it abstracts from motion and end. Wherefore Spinoza, who sought to proceed geometrically in metaphysics, excluded the efficient and final causes from the subject matter of metaphysics. He wanted to deduce everything from God, just as the properties of a triangle are deduced from its nature.

Thus the foregoing consideration sufficiently explains goodness with reference to being, which does not differ really but logically from being, and which is absolutely posterior to being. Every being is good at least relatively, although it frequently is lacking in that perfection by which it could be said to be good absolutely. In the two following articles goodness is considered, not in its relation to being,, but as it is in itself.



State of the question. The difficulty is that Dionysius often says that goodness is self-diffusive.(19) But to be diffusive implies the aspect of an efficient cause. Also St. Augustine says: "We exist, because
God is good." (20)

The conclusion, however, is: Goodness has the aspect of a final cause.
I) It is proved on the authority of Aristotle, for he thus defines the end and the good as "that for the sake of which something is done." (21)
2) It is proved by reason as follows: The desirable has the aspect of an end; but goodness is desirable; therefore goodness has the aspect of an end, at least as regards the act of the one desiring; and it can be desirable either because it is pleasant (as a fruit), or because it is useful (as a bitter medicine), or because it is virtuous.(22)

There is furthermore another conclusion in the body of the article, which may be enunciated as follows: Goodness is the first in causation and the last in being, because the end is the first in causation, in the order of intention, since it attracts the agent to act; and the end is the last in being, or in the order of execution. Thus the generator tends to reproduce its form, for instance, fire tends to reproduce the form of fire, the ox the form of an ox, and the form of the thing generated terminates the passive generation, and afterward what is generated is made perfect. Thus when the animal acquires its complete development, then it is perfectly like the one generating.

Reply to first objection. Goodness and beauty differ logically, for goodness relates to the appetite, whereas beauty relates to the cognitive faculty; for things are said to be beautiful that please the eye.(23) Thus beauty is the splendor of form in material things, as in the rose or the lily; but if it is a case of intellectual beauty, then it is the splendor of truth or the irradiation of some principle in the many conclusions deduced from it. In like manner the splendor manifesting itself in a life of heroic moral acts constitutes moral beauty; transcending all, we have the sublime, when there is the greatest of diversity in the closest of unity, as in Holy Communion: O wonderful thing, he that is poor, and a servant, and lowly, eateth t he Lord.

Beauty seems to be a transcendental property of being, for everything produced by the divine artist is beautiful; but every being is produced by the divine artist as the author of nature; therefore every being is beautiful, at least according to its nature or essence, for it conveys to us some idea of God. But integral beauty, as seen in God, in Christ, in the Blessed Virgin Mary, is splendor of being according to unity, truth, and goodness, that is, splendor and harmony of all the properties of being.

Reply to second objection. There is a brief solution of the difficulty arising from the Platonist conception, that goodness is self­diffusive: and this pertains to the efficient cause. St. Thomas replies: "Goodness is described as self-diffusive, as being the end," namely, in that it attracts the agent to act, and the appetite to desire. But as remarked farther on (24) by way of a logical sequence, goodness is in active diffusion inasmuch as the agent operates effectively because of the end intended, and this either by a necessity of nature, as the ox generates an ox, or else freely, as when man communicates his knowledge to others or exhorts them to good.

Hence St. Thomas says: "It belongs to the essence of goodness to communicate itself to others. Hence it belongs to the essence of the highest good to communicate itself in the highest manner to the creature, and this is brought about chiefly by . . . (the incarnation of the Word)." (25) Thus self-diffusion primarily belongs to the end as attracting, and afterward to the agent. But God is not necessitated, however, in His external operations, but is absolutely free, for He is in no need of finite goods,(26) and He operates to manifest His goodness, as will be stated farther on.

Therefore, when the Neoplatonists said: "Goodness is essentially self-diffusive," they did not sufficiently distinguish between the agent and the end, and so they unwarrantably asserted that God operates externally by a necessity of His nature, as the sun diffuses heat and light in the air. The consequence of this was pantheistic emanatism, which is contrary to the dogma of an absolutely free creation.

Reply to third objection. The saying of St. Augustine, "We exist, because God is good," refers to the final cause. This means that we exist because God willed to manifest His goodness in loving and creating us; thus we receive a certain participation of the divine goodness. Therefore goodness has the aspects of an end.


State of the question. It is concerned with causated good, as Cajetan says, and this is manifest from the counterargument, which quotes the following definition of goodness given by St. Augustine, as consisting "in everything which God has made."

The reply in the affirmative is thus presented: "For a thing to be perfect and good it must have a form together with all that precedes and follows upon that form" for everything is what it is by its form. But the form is itself signified by the species, that which is prerequired for it by the mode, and that which follows upon it by the order. Thus the form of a fruit constitutes it in a certain species; but this presupposes the mode of commensuration of the material and efficient principles, for instance, of the earth and the sun, so that the fruit may attain its ripeness. Finally, in the fruit there is order toward an end, for instance, the preservation of life in man. Likewise these three conditions are required so that one may be a good painter, a good sculptor, or a good musician. The mode is required for the acquisition of the art, and its order for the end. Thus goodness demands the congruent concurrence of the four causes, because the end is last in the order of execution. Thus the reason is assigned for this descriptive definition given by St. Augustine.


State of the question. This question is concerned with transcendental goodness, but in the formal and not in the material sense of the term. Good in the material sense, subjectively considered, is divided into ten categories. Thus we speak of a good substance, a good quantity, a good quality. . . . Goodness in the formal sense,however, is divided according to the idea of goodness, namely as it is something perfect and desirable. But this division is the foundation for the notion of moral goodness, which is virtuous goodness that is in conformity with the rules of moral action, that is, with the eternal law and right reason.(27)

Certain difficulties are raised against this division. (I) It seems better to divide transcendental goodness by the ten categories in which it is found. (2) This division is not made by members that are opposites to one another, for some thing, for instance, a virtue, is both objectively good and pleasant. (3) There is the aspect of end in goodness, but there is no such aspect in the useful.

The conclusion, however, is affirmative.

I) It is proved on the authority of St. Ambrose,(28) who gives the aforesaid division, which he found in Cicero's works. It was already given by Aristotle.(29) Thus Aristotle distinguishes between three kinds of friendship, in so far as it is the foundation for goodness that is either useful, or pleasant, or virtuous. This last kind is friendship among the virtuous. This classical division is found in the writings of St. Augustine and Dionysius. The Master of the Sentences divided the subject matter of theology, according as some parts are useful, but as other parts are virtuous and capable of being enjoyed by us.

This classical division, however, is not retained by the Epicureans who, like all materialists and sensualists, belittle virtuous good, and consider that goodness consists only in what is useful and pleasant. Thus they recommend a virtuous life only as a means of avoiding the inconveniences of vices that are in opposition to one another, and not because the object of virtue demands our love.

2) The genuineness of this classical division is proved from reason, for it applies, as St. Thomas says, not only to human goodness, but to goodness as such. A good division has its foundation in the formal aspect of the whole that is to be divided, and so it is with this division. For goodness, inasmuch as it is desirable, terminates the movement of the appetite. But this terminus is either the means (and thus it is called the useful), or it is the ultimate end, as the thing desired for its own sake (and thus it is called the virtuous), or else it is the ultimate end in the form of rest in the thing (and thus it is called the pleasant). This division properly has its foundation in the formal aspect of the whole that is to be divided, and it is effected by parts that are opposites to one another. Thus the division is not accidental, but essential and adequate.

We must particularly insist on the definition of virtuous good. It is that good which is desired for its own sake, as stated in the body of this article, and the reply to the second objection says that "the virtuous is predicated of such as are desirable in themselves," that is, regardless of any pleasure or usefulness resulting from it, as in the case of telling the truth even though death or martyrdom may be the result of this. As St. Thomas says elsewhere,(30) honest means the same as worthy of honor, and is indeed the object of virtue, and the source of spiritual elegance and beauty. It is also called rational or moral goodness, in so far as it is in conformity with right reason, as the object of the upright will.

Reply to first objection. This division is derived formally in accordance with the formal aspect of goodness, and not materially according as the subject serves as the foundation for this.

Reply to second objection. "This division is not by opposite things but by opposite aspects." Therefore the same thing, such as a virtue, can be both virtuous and pleasant, and even useful as regards the ultimate end.

However, those things are properly called pleasant that are only pleasant, being sometimes hurtful and contrary to virtue. Likewise those things are properly called useful that are only useful, as money and bitter medicine. St. Thomas shows elsewhere (31) that the virtuous is desired for its own sake by the rational appetite; that the pleasant is desired for its own sake by the sensitive appetite, and that nothing repugnant to virtuous good is absolutely and truely useful, but relatively so.

Reply to third objection. Goodness is not divided into these three as something univocal, but as something analogical; and it is predicated chiefly of the virtuous, secondly of the pleasant, and lastly of the useful.

First corollary. In this division we have the principle for the refutation of hedonism and utilitarianism, namely, of the false ethics that has its foundation in the pleasant and the useful, but not in the virtuous good. But the sensualists cannot truly preserve in their system the idea of virtuous good, which is good as such,regardless of the pleasure and usefulness resulting from it, as in the case of suffering martyrdom for the love of divine truth.

Second corollary. The first principle of ethics is: "We must do good and avoid evil." The reference here is to virtuous good toward whichi our rational nature is inclined by its Author. (32) Hence when a person comes fully to the use of reason, such person must love efficaciously the virtuous good for its own sake, and this more than himself. But this implies that confusedly or implicitly, though efficaciously, God, the author of nature and the supreme good, loved more than oneself. But since this efficacious love, in the state of fallen nature, is impossible without a healing grace, which is also elevating,(33) St. Thomas, speaking of the age of reason, concludes: "If he(the child) then directs himself to the due end, he will by means of grace receive the remission of original sin," (34) namely, by baptism of desire. This remark alone suffices now, so as to show clearly how virtuous good transcends the pleasant and useful.

Doubt. It may be asked whether the brute beast tends at least materially toward the virtuous good that is proportionate to its natural inclination, although it has no knowledge of the end or of the virtuous as such.

We reply in the affirmative with St. Thomas, who says: "Everything (whatsoever creature) naturally loves God more than itself . .. since each part (in the universe of created things) naturally loves the whole more than itself. And each individual naturally loves the good of the species more than its own individual good." (35) Thus the malice of onanism is clearly seen, for it is against the good of the species and of its preservation. In like manner St. Thomas in commenting on these words of Christ, "How often would I have gathered thy children together as the hen gathers her young under her wings, but thou wouldst not!" has this to say: "The hen, feeling concerned about her young, defends them, and gathers them under her wings. So also Christ takes pity on us, and truly bore our infirmities." (36) From this we clearly see how sublime is virtuous good, which is already materially present in the nobler actions of animals, so that Christ speaking of generosity could appeal to this example of the lower order, an example that is known to all.
And so with this we bring to a close the question of goodness in general.

This question gives us the nominal definition of goodness (that which all things desire), its real definition (perfect and desirable being), its relation to being and to causality, and also its division into the virtuous, the pleasant, and the useful.


Index Top


1. Summa theol., IIa IIae, q.18.

2. I Sent., d. 3, q. 3.

3. See Plato's Republic, Bk. VII, 517, D; "In the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and when seen is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and good, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual world."

4. Cf.. Enneades, Bk. III, ii, 12; V, i, 6; ii: i; VI, viii, 9, 11.

5. The Neoplatonists speak of the One-Good, which transcends being, somewhat as subsequently Catholic theologians say that the Deity in some way transcends all absolutely simple perfections, which are contained in it eminently. But for the theologians, the Deity contains formally being, the one, the good; whereas, contrary to this, the One of the Platonists virtually contained the inferior notes, which necessarily proceeded from it.

6. Summa Theol., Ia, q.5, a.4; Ia IIae, q. 1, a.4 ad 1; IIIa, q. 1, a. 1; Contra Gentes, Bk. IV, chap. 11.

7. Summa theol., Ia, q.19, a.3.

8. I Sent., d.8, q. 1i, a.3.

9. The proper object of the human intellect as such is the nature of sensible things, or intelligible being of sensible things in the mirror of sensible things.

10. Thus the notion of being is not in generation and time prior to that of goodness, but it is prior simply, in the order of nature, just as essence is prior to its properties. The reason for this priority is the principle already admitted by Plato and Plotinus, that "the simpler and the more abstract a thing is, the nobler and higher it is in itself" (Summa theol., Ia, q.82, a.3).

Thus the idea of being, while it is included in the idea of goodness, is somehow already limited and contracted, because it can be found also in the ideas of truth and unity.

11. Summa theol., Ia, q.82, a.3.

12. Plato and Plotinus seem to admit that the One is indivisible, whereas being is divided; and they identify the one with the Good. Thus they solve the arguments of Parmenides by positing "the One-Good" above being, and explaining causality, which Parmenides denied, in that good is essentially diffusive of itself.

On the contrary, St. Thomas and Aristotle solve the arguments of Parmenides against multiplicity in being and motion by distinguishing between potentiality and actuality. They also hold that unity, by the very fact that it is convertible
with being, is divided, like being, into potentiality and actuality.

13. Summa theol., Ia, q.82, a.3.

14. Ibid., q.5, a.2 ad 2um et 3um.

15. Metaph., Bk. III, ii, 4.

16. Gen., 1:31.

17. See supra, a.1.

18. Ibid., ad Ium.

19. De nom. div., chap. 4.

20. De doctr. Christ, chap.31.

21. Physics, Bk. II.

22. Summa theol., Ia, q.5, a.6.

23. Ibid., q.39, a.8, where it is stated that three conditions are required for the pleasing effect of beauty, namely, integrity, due proportion, and clarity.

24. Ibid., Ia, q.19, a.2.

25. Ibid., IIIa, q, 1, a. 1.

26. Ibid., Ia, q, 19, a.3.

27. Ibid., Ia IIae, q. 18.

28. De officiis, Bk. I, chap. 9.

29. Ethics, Bk. I, chap. 5.

30. Summa theol., IIa IIae, q.145, a. 1, 2; Ia IIae, q.39, a.2.

31. Ibid, IIa IIae, q.145, a3.

32.Ibid., Ia IIae, q.94, a.2.

33. Ibid., q.109, a.3.

34. Ibid., q.89, a.6.

35. Ibid., Ia, q.60, a.5 ad 1um; see also Ia, q.6, a 1 ad 2um; IIa IIae, q.26, a.3.

36. In Matt., 23: 37.



"God looks neither at long nor beautiful prayers, but at those that come from the heart."

The Cure D'Ars

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"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

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"Before a man chooses his confessor, he ought to think well about it, and pray about it also; but when he has once chosen, he ought not to change, except for most urgent reasons, but put the utmost confidence in his director."

St Philip Neri

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