"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 6: The Goodness of God

In this question there are four points of inquiry. It treats first of God as He is in Himself, and then in His relation to creatures. The first two articles consider the question of God's goodness: whether God is good, and whether He is the supreme good. After this there is a discussion of the mode in which goodness belongs to God, namely, whether He alone is essential goodness. Lastly, the question is discussed, whether all things are good by the divine goodness, at least in so far as all things proceed from the divine goodness and tend toward it.

Therefore it treats of ontological goodness, by which God is good and desirable in Himself, and according to which He is the end of all things and the supreme agent communicating to creatures all good things they receive.

But this ontological goodness is the foundation of benevolence or of the love of benevolence and it is also the foundation of justice and mercy, these being discussed by St. Thomas after his question about the divine will, since justice and mercy are, so to speak, virtues of the divine will.(1) We must draw special attention to this, for many already expect that the discussion of God's goodness means a discussion of His love of benevolence.

In this question it will be seen that St. Thomas proceeds by the way of affirmation and excellence, since goodness is a positive attribute. The middle term of the demonstration in these articles is the first efficient Cause (second proof of God's existence). For the first efficient Cause is the source of all good, and hence it is thus a posteriori evident that this Cause is the essential Good.

State of the question. Among philosophers, Plato had said that the supreme reality is the subsistent good. Aristotle, too, says that God is pure Act and, as the end or the supreme good, attracts or draws all things to Himself. Several historians maintain that God, according to Aristotle, is only the end of all things, but not the efficient cause. Certainly Aristotle did not get so far as to admit the idea of a free creation from nothing; but he did not deny that God is in some way the efficient cause of the change in things, and of things themselves. In this question St. Thomas shows that God would not manifest Himself to us as the supreme good and the ultimate end of all things, unless He were the supreme efficient cause. But with this admission, there must be an application of the following principles, namely, that every agent acts with an end in view, and the order of agents must correspond to the order of ends, and the supreme agent to the ultimate end.

The reply of the article is this: Since God is the first effective cause of all things, evidently the aspect of good and of desirableness belong to Hirn.

1) This truth is revealed in countless passages of Holy Scripture, and is, so to speak, more than of the faith; for if God's goodness is denied there would be nothing left of Christian faith; this denial would be, in a certain sense, something more than heresy, for the heretic denies something and retains something; but with the denial of God's goodness there would be nothing left of the Christian mysteries.

From the Holy Scripture the following text is quoted: "The Lord is good to them that hope in Him, to the soul that seeketh Him." (2) In like manner Christ says: "Why askest thou Me concerning good? One is good, God." (3)

Manichaeism is condemned, which denies that the supreme Good is the sole principle and source of all goodness.(4) Against this heresy the Council of Florence defined that "God is the creator of all things visible and invisible, who when He willed, of His goodness created all creatures, both spiritual and corporeal; the good, indeed, because they were made by the supreme Good; but they are changeable, because they were made from nothing; and it (the Church) asserts that no nature is evil, because every nature as such, is good." (5) In like manner, the Vatican Council says: "God of His goodness . . . to manifest His perfection which He bestows on creatures . . . created them out of nothing.(6)

2) The reply is proved from reason as follows: The effective cause is desirable and good as regards its effects (thus the father is so as regards his children); but God is the first effective cause of all things (2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th proofs of God's existence); therefore God is good as regards all creatures.

The major is proved as follows: The proper perfection of the effect is its likeness to the agent, for every agent makes its like; but everything seeks its own perfection; therefore everything seeks to be like its efficient cause. But if the likeness of the efficient cause is desirable, then a fortiori the effective cause itself is desirable.

Some object that this argument is very involved for the affirmation of this most simple truth: God is good.

We reply by saying that this rather involved argument is expressed more simply by the Christian mind when it is said that God, inasmuch as He is the source of all good things, is in the highest degree good.(7)

But this argument brings out more clearly this great law of progressive development in all created things, namely, that the perfection of anything whatever is for it to be like its cause. Thus the perfection of the boy is that he becomes a man, just as his father is who begot him. In like manner the perfection of the disciple is for him to become like his master. Hence it is natural for the son to love his father, just as it is natural for the father to love his son; but the father's love is stronger because it is the love of one who is the cause.(8)

Hence because God is the first effective cause of all things, evidently He is good. Thus men and especially apostolic men, must manifest His goodness, by laboring effectively as true causes for the salvation of souls. They must have the goodness of a true intermediate cause which is intimately united with the supreme Cause of salvation. Thus the apostles are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, provided they receive the power to live an interior life not from inferiors but from God, who is the source of life. If the apostolic man is thus the true intermediate cause of salvation, he will certainly be desirable and desired, and all will say, as was said of the saints, whose effective influence was an evident manifestation of their goodness, how good he is. This applies far more so to God Himself. This is the profound meaning of this article, which at first sight seems very abstract and metaphysical, and yet there is in it some reference to the intimate life of a spiritual and apostolic man. In fact, the doctrine of this article is above sentimentalism, and is truly Christian realism.

This will be made much clearer to us in a subsequent article in which it is stated that "the love of God infuses and creates goodness in things," (9) for His love does not presuppose lovableness in creatures, but posits or creates, preserves and increases, this in them. Thus goodness is appropriated to the Holy Spirit, who proceeds by way of love as personal love.

Reply to first objection. Mode, species, and order, which give us the descriptive definition of goodness, are in God as in the One who is the cause of order.

Reply to second objection. That which all creatures either knowingly or unknowingly love is a certain participated similitude of the divine goodness; thus when the hen gathers her chickens under her wings, she is loving the good or conservation of her species.(10)


State of the question. It is still a question whether there is such goodness in God. Certainly it is of faith that God is supremely, in act, infinitely, good.

The same middle term is employed in proving this from reason as in proving the conclusion of the preceding article. It is as follows: In the univocal cause the likeness of an effect is found uniformly, but in the higher and non-univocal cause it is found eminently; but goodness belongs to God as the supreme effective cause of all things, which is non-univocal, yet transcending every genus; therefore goodness belongs to God in a most excellent way. For "all desired perfections flow from Him as from the first cause." However, the objections of this article are of minor importance, but they are formulated, such as they are, in accordance with the scholastic method of the thirteenth century.


State of the question. Essential goodness is set in opposition to participated goodness. This article is the explanation of our Lord's words when He said: "None is good but God alone," (11)

The reply is in the affirmative; and its proof is the synthesis of what St. Thomas already wrote in another of his works,(12) and is reduced to this syllogism: A thing is good in so far as it is perfect, (1) according to its being, (2) as to its operative principles, (3) according as it attains its end; but this threefold perfection belongs 1to God essentially, because He alone is His own existence, His own actiont and His own end; therefore essential goodness belongs properly to God, and all else is goodness by participation.

The difficulty is that St. Thomas, in virtue of the minor, concludes rather that only God is essentially good, whereas he intended to conclude that only God is the Good essentially, not by participation, that is, He does not participate in goodness. These two conclusions are not however universally the same; for Socrates is by reason of his essence a man, and yet he is not man per essentiam, but by participation. For it is only the "separate man," of which Plato speaks, who would be man per essentiam or the archetype of man.

In reply to this it must be said that in God, though nowhere else, these two modes of predication coincide, or, as Cajetan says, coincide "because of their matter." This means that not only does it follow from the argument of St. Thomas that God is essentially good, but also that He is the Good per essentiam; for God not only has goodness, but He is the very plenitude of being, or He is the supreme perfection, hence supremely desirable, or, in other words,
he is bonum per essentiam.

On the contrary, although Socrates is by reason of his essence a man, yet he is not his humanity; for humanity is an essential part in him, and Socrates has this; but he is not his humanity.(13)

Reply to first and third objections. Anything whatever is one or undivided by reason of its essence, but it is not absolutely good by reason of its essence, but because of a superadded perfection.

Reply to second objection. "The essence of a created thing is not its existence," (14) and this is true before the mind considers it. Thus, in the teaching of St. Thomas, created essence and existence, which are not included in one and the same concept, are really distinct. We can find any number of similar expressions in his works.


State of the question. This article was written to refute Plato's error, who held that the species of things are separate entities from individual things; in like manner, he held that the goodness of things is a separate entity from them, so that things are called good by extrinsic denomination and by a certain participation, the nature of which is a secret of Platonism.

This teaching, is the result of absolute realism, which maintains that the universal exists not only fundamentally but formally, apart from the thing in which it is found, or that it exists extramentally. Thus universal being is confused with the divine being, universal good with the divine good. In other words, the universal in predication is confused with the universal in being and causation. The pupils of Gilbert de la Porree revived this extreme realism in the Middle Ages.

St. Thomas already examined this question in another of his works. He now briefly recalls to mind Plato's opinion and concludes: Everything is called good from its own goodness formally and intrinsically as such, and it is called good from the divine goodness as from the effective and exemplary principle of all good ness.

The proof of the first part of this conclusion, which is against absolute realism, is that the species of things are not separated from them, any more than entity, unity, and goodness of things are separated from them. Everything is called formally good by intrinsic denomination, or by reason of its own goodness, which in an individual thing is its individual goodness. Thus the universal does not exist formally outside the mind, but fundamentally inasmuch as in individual things the similarity is either specific, generic, or analogical.

The proof of the second part of the conclusion is clearly deduced from the fourth proof of God's existence, since more and less are predicated of different things according as they resemble in their different ways something which is the maximum; for multitude does not explain the idea of unity of similarity to be found in them, and everything that is a compound (of receptive capacity and received perfection) needs a cause.

Hence Plato unwarrantably posited a separate or essential man, because man cannot exist apart from matter, and bones and flesh cannot exist unless they are the bones and flesh of this particular person. But he had a good reason for contending that there is a separate and essential Good. Yet he did not sufficiently distinguish this from universal good; and so we must say that in Platonism there is a pantheistic trend, which is more accentuated in the necessary emanatism of the Neoplatonists, which is radically in opposition to the dogmatic teaching of an absolutely free creation.

St. Thomas does not explicitly refute Manichaeism in this sixth question, because he does this later on when discussing the problem of evil.(16) But this heresy is virtually refuted, since the supreme principle of all things, as stated, is the essential Good.

Index Top


1. Summa theol., Ia, q. 19-21.

2. Lam. 3: 25.

3. Matt. 19:17.

4. Denz., nos. 234 f., 367, 707, 710.

5. Ibid., no. 706.

6. Ibid., no. 1783.

7. Summa theol., Ia, q.2, a.3: fourth proof of God's existence.

8. See reply to second objection in this article.

9. Summa theol., Ia, q. 20, a. 2.

10. See Plato's Phedrus (on beauty) and his Symposium (banquet on love, toward the end).

11. Luke18:19.

12. De veritate, q.21, a.5.

13. Summa theol., Ia, q.3, a.3; IIIa, q.2, a.2.

14. Ibid., Ia, q. 3, a.4.

15. De veritate, q.21, a.4.

16. Summa theol., Ia, q.47-49



"If you wish to learn and appreciate something worth while, then love to be unknown and considered as nothing. Truly to know and despise self is the best and most perfect counsel."

Thomas á Kempis

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"We must not be behind time in doing good; for death will not be behind his time. "

St Phillip Neri

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"The Lord has always revealed to mortals the treasures of his wisdom and his spirit, but now that the face of evil bares itself more and more, so does the Lord bare his treasures more."

St John of the Cross, OCD - Doctor of the Church

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