"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.


Third article: whether God exists (cont.)


We see that things lacking intelligence act for an end. Not only is this an established fact, but it is the minor of this demonstration. Indeed we notice that there is a wonderful order and finality prevailing in the strikingly regular courses of the heavenly bodies. The centripetal and centrifugal forces are so regulated that the heavenly bodies move in their orbits with enormous speed and in perfect harmony. More striking are the unity and variety that we behold in the organic structures of plants, animals, and man. Finality, or the relation to an end, is clearly seen in the evolution of the primitive embryonic cell, which in its simplicity virtually contains all that belongs to the determinate organism of this particular species rather than of a certain other, of a lion, for instance, rather than of a dog. This evolution manifestly tends to a determined end. Hence Claude Bernard spoke of "the directive idea" of this evolution. There is something truly wonderful in this. In like manner the organs of animals are adapted to this particular function rather than to a certain other, such as the eye with its multiplicity of visual conditions and its cells is adapted to this most simple operation of seeing, and the ear to that of hearing. Similarly the instinct and activities of animals are directed to certain determined ends. Thus, the activities of the bee are for the building of its hive and the making of honey.

What Particularly manifests this finality, as St. Thomas notes, is the fact that natural agents of the irrational order "always or nearly always act in the same way, so as to obtain the best result." (149) If God had created but one eye for the evident purpose of seeing, this would already be something wonderful. This best result, which is the terminus of action, is strictly entitled to the name of end; for the end is the good in view of which an agent acts. In fact, before God's existence is proved, the principle of finality, "every agent acts for an end," is an evident truth. As St. Thomas says: "An agent does not move except out of intention for an end (unless it do so at least unconsciously). For if the agent were not determined to some particular effect, it would not do one thing rather than another. Therefore, in order that it produce a determinate effect, it must of necessity be determined to some certain one, which has the nature of an end." (150)

It will not do to have recourse to chance, for chance is an accidental cause, and hence is not the cause of what happens always and according to nature. Otherwise the accidental would no longer be accidental but essential; instead of being something which accrues to the essence, it would be its foundation, and in that case the essential would be subordinate to the accidental, and this would be unintelligible and absurd. The wonderful order existing in the universe would be the result of no order, the greater would proceed from the less. Neither will it do to appeal solely to the efficient cause, and to reject the final cause. For in that case we could not give any reason for the action of an agent: why, for instance, a certain organ has a certain determinate tendency; nor could we say why an agent acts instead of not acting. There would be no raison d'etre for the action. The active potency or the inclination of the agent tends essentially toward something, just as the imperfect tends toward the perfect. "Potency refers to act." For instance, the faculty of sight is for seeing. Therefore, we cannot doubt the existence of finality in the world, the order of which is the suitable arrangement of means in view of an end.(151) Now the existence of order or finality in the world is illustrated by the following principle which is the major of this demonstration.

Irrational beings cannot tend toward an end, unless they are directed by some supreme Intelligence. In fact, to be directed presupposes a directing cause, which is an act that pertains to the intellect and not to the imagination. "It is for the wise man to direct." Why? Because an intelligent being alone perceives the raison d'etre of the means. "Irrational beings," says St. Thomas, "tend toward an end by natural inclination; they are, as it were, moved by another and not by themselves, since they have no knowledge of the end as such." (152) Animals have a sensitive knowledge of the thing which constitutes their end, but they do not perceive the formal end as such in this thing. If therefore, there were no intelligent designer directing the world, the order and intelligibility in things would be the effect of an unintelligible cause, and our own intelligences would originate from a blind and unintelligible cause, and again we should have to say that the greater comes from the less, which is absurd. This was understood to be so by Anaxagoras, and he was very much praised by Aristotle for having made this assertion .(153) There is, therefore, a supreme intelligent Being, who directs all things in nature to their respective ends.

Kant objects that this argument proves only the existence of some finite intelligence. We reply to this by saying that it is not enough for the first Ruler to have, like ourselves, an intellectual faculty directed to intelligible being, for this would at once demand the presence of a designing intelligence of a higher order. The supreme Designer cannot be designed for any other purpose. Therefore He must be the self-subsisting Intellection and self-subsisting Being, and this will be more clearly seen in subsequent articles.(154)

This proof, like the preceding proofs, is most universal in scope. It takes in anything whatever that denotes design, and from this it rises up to the supreme Designer. Thus it starts with equal force either from the fact that the eye is for seeing, and the ear for hearing, or that the intellect is for the understanding of truth, or the will for the willing of good.

Viewed under this aspect, there are two proofs for God's existence that are referred back to this fifth way. One is the natural tendency of our will to do what is good and avoid what is evil; the other is the natural desire of the will for happiness, or for unlimited good, which is found only in God, who is the essential Good.

Evidently this twofold ordination of the will presupposes a supreme Ordainer, just as the ordination of sight to seeing does. This proof must be most convincing for the angels; by the very fact that they see that their will is directed to universal good, at once without any discursive process they see that passive ordination presupposes the active ordination of a supreme Ordainer. "There is no ordination without an ordainer." (155)

This fifth proof, since it starts from the consideration of the order prevailing in the world, the harmony, for instance, in the movements of the heavenly bodies, is readily understood at least in a confused way by the natural reason. Hence it is said: "All men are vain in whom there is not the knowledge of God, and who by these good things that are seen could not understand Him that is. Neither by attending to the works have acknowledged who was the workman." (156) Hence the Psalmist says: "The heavens show forth the glory of God." (157)


We have already pointed out at the end of each of these five proofs that the result of each is to move us to admit the existence of a divine attribute which can be predicated only of the self-subsisting Being, as will be explicitly proved by St. Thomas.(158) The article referred to serves the double purpose of pointing out to us what is the terminus in the ascending order in the process of reasoning or the terminus by way of finding in proving God's existence, which rises from sensible things until it reaches the supreme cause, and it is also the principle in the descending or synthetic process, by which reason deduces the divine attributes, and judges of all things by the highest cause.(159)

In fact, the prime mover must be his own action, and, therefore, his own existence, and the same must be said of the first uncaused cause, of the necessary being, of the most perfect being, and of the ruler of the universe. Thus the supreme truth of Christian philosophy, or the fundamental truth by way of judgment, is that "in God alone essence and existence are identical." God is "He who is." (160) This is the golden key to the whole treatise on the one God, and its dominating principle.

These are, therefore, the principal metaphysical proofs to which all others are reduced. If we study them carefully, we see, contrary to the assertions of modern agnostics, that the existence of God, who transcends the world, cannot be denied without denying the principle of causality, namely, that "every being which is contingent, changeable, composite, imperfect, and relative, is caused," and so requires a first and unchangeable being, one that is absolutely simple and perfect. Now, the principle of causality cannot be denied or doubted without denying or doubting the principle of contradiction, for "a contingent and uncaused being" would exist neither of itself nor by reason of another, and consequently could not be distinguished from nothingness, since it would have no reason for existing. This would mean the subversion of the principle of contradiction, that "being is not non-being," and of the principle of identity, that "being is being, non-being is non-being."

If, on the contrary, the principle of contradiction or identity is the supreme law of reality and of our reason, then the supreme reality must indeed be the identity of essence and existence, or self-subsisting Being. Thus the five ways of proving God's existence unite in the wonderful opposition prevailing between the principle of identity and the changeableness and composition of the world. From this opposition it is at once evident that the world is contingent and depends on the immutable and pre-eminently simple Being whose name is "I am who am." (161)

It is, therefore, absolutely necessary to choose between the existence of God, who transcends the world, and the denial of the real validity of the principle of contradiction. Absolute evolutionism denies this validity, maintaining that motion or becoming is its own reason for such,(162) and hence that the more perfect comes from the less perfect, and that contradictories are identified in a universal process of becoming. Thus we see in absolute evolutionism an incontestable proof, by reductio ad absurdum of the true and transcendental God, since this existence cannot be denied without denying the real validity of the first principle of reason, and without positing a fundamental absurdity as the principle of all things. For if God is truly the absolutely necessary being, then the denial of His existence means the positing of a fundamental absurdity as the principle of all things.

We see the radical absurdity of this system in the first of the propositions condemned in the Syllabus of Pius IX, which reads as follows: "There is no supreme Being, who is all-wise, ruler of the universe and distinct from it; God is identical with the nature of things, and is, therefore, subject to changes; God really becomes or begins to be in man and in the world, and all things are God and have the same substance with Him; thus God and the world, spirit and matter, necessity and liberty, truth and falsehood, goodness and evil, justice and injustice, are all identified in the one same and only reality." (163) If absolute evolutionism were true, then nothing would be stable, and therefore we should have to say that there is nothing but relative truth. In such a state of knowledge the antithesis would always be truer than the thesis and then there would be a synthesis of a higher order, and so on indefinitely. Contradictories would be identified in the very process of becoming, which would be its own reason for such.

To avoid this absurdity we must affirm the existence of God, who, as the Vatican Council says, "being one, sole, absolutely simple (164) and immutable (165) spiritual substance, is to be declared as really and essentially distinct from the world (which is composite and subject to change), of supreme beatitude in and from Himself, and ineffably exalted above all things which exist or can be conceived beside Himself." (166)

St. Thomas gives us in merely a few words his solution to the objection raised against God's existence because of the prevalence of evil in the world,(167) because he intends to examine this problem more at length farther on in this treatise.(168) But we now merely call to mind the solution of the problem of evil given by St. Augustine, who says: "Since God is supremely good, He would not at all permit any evil in His works if He did not have power and goodness enough to draw good out of evil." (169) Thus in the physical order He permits the death of some animal for the preservation of another, of a lion, for instance; and in the moral order He permits persecution for this greater good, namely, the constancy of the martyrs. Similarly, St. Thomas says: "God allows evils to happen in order to bring a greater good therefrom. Hence it is written (Rom. 5:20): `Where sin abounded, grace did more abound.' Hence, too, in the blessing of the paschal candle we say: `O happy fault that merited such and so great a Redeemer.' " (170)

Reply to the second objection. Nature is not the first cause of those things that are done in a natural way, because, "since nature works for a determinate end under the direction of a higher agent, whatever is done by nature must needs be traced back to God, as to its first cause. So also whatever is done voluntarily," as all mobile and defectible beings must be traced back to some first immobile and essentially necessary being.

This suffices for the proofs of God's existence, which we have expounded more philosophically in another work. (171)

Index Top


149. Ibid., Ia, q.2, a.3

150. Ia IIae, q.1, a.2; also Ia, q.44, a.4; Contra Gentes, Bk. III, chap. 2.

151. See Aristotle, Physics, Bk. II, chaps. 8 f., and the Commentary of St. Thomas, lect. 7-14.

152. Summa theol., Ia IIae, q. 1, a.2.

153. Metaph., Bk. 1, chap. 3.

154. Summa theol., Ia, q.3, a.4; q. 14, a. 1, 4.

155. Contra Gentes, Bk. III, chap. 38.

156. Wis. 13: 1.

157. Ps. 18: 1. On the natural knowledge of God's existence, cf. Contra Gentes, Bk. III, chap. 38.

158. Summa theol., Ia, q.3, a.4.

159. Ibid., q.79, a.9.

160. Ex. 3: 14.

161. Ibid.

162. For this reason Heraclitus is said to have denied the real validity of the principle of contradiction, reducing it to a grammatical law. See Aristotle's Metaphysics, Bk. IV, chaps. 3-8.

163. Denz., no. 1701.

164 See the fourth and fifth proofs as above explained.

165. See the first, second, and third proofs of St. Thomas.

165. Denz., no. 1782.

167. Summa theol., Ia, q. 2, a. 3 ad 1 um.

168. Ibid., q.22, a.2 ad 2um; q.48, a.2 ad 3um.

169. Enchiridion, chap. XI.

170. Summa theol., IIIa, q.1, a.1, ad 3um.

171. See God, His Existence and His Nature.



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St Philip Neri

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The Cure D'Ars

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