"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. Composition of substance and accident is excluded from the exposition of God's simplicity. We are here concerned with accident as a predicament, the existence of which is to exist in another, whether this accident is necessary as a property as, for instance, the intellective faculty in our soul, whether this accident is contingent, as this man who happens to know geometry. The difficulty here is because wisdom and virtue, which are accidents in us, are attributed to God.

Conclusion. There cannot be any accident in God.

For this conclusion three proofs are given, based on the fact that God is (1) pure act, (2) the self-subsisting Being, (3) the first Being.

1) A subject is compared to its accidents as potentialityy to actuality by which it is perfected; but God is pure act ; (37) therefore there cannot be any accident in God.

The major is evident; for the subject is determined and perfected by a positive accident, for instance, the soul by faculties and habits. But God is pure act and therefore is not in potentiality for any further actuality. He is not determinable but is supremely determined.

2) Being that is absolute and unreceived cannot have anything superadded to it; but God is the absolute and unreceived being; therefore God cannot have any accident superadded to Him.

Cajetan explains the major by pointing out that what is not received cannot have anything else superadded to it without receiving. But absolute being cannot receive or be determined, because it is the ultimate actuality of a thing. Therefore unreceived being cannot have anything superadded to it, and so is at the same time incapable of receiving anything.

Contrary to this, therefore, it must be said that if, as we see in creatures, being has an accident superadded to it, for instance, operation, then this is not unreceived being, but is received in the essence, which is potency in relation to being; and this essence or substance is capable of further determination by the faculties and operations. Hence created essence can be determined in two ways, namely, by the act of existence and by the faculties and operations. On the other hand, God is the self-subsisting Being and is therefore incapable of further determination.

3) What is essential is prior to what is accidental, and accident is what comes after; but God is the absolute primal being, and in Him there cannot be anything that comes after, whether this be caused or derived; therefore nothing accidental can be in God.

In the reply to the first objection it is stated that virtue and wisdom, which are accidents in us, are not so in God, because they are predicated only analogically of Him.(38) Indeed, as we shall see, God is not in potentiality, either as to the act of understanding, or as to that of loving, but is self-subsisting intelligence and essential love. We already have some evidence of this inasmuch as God is pure act.(39)

Corollary. This article gives us a complete refutation of pantheism, for pantheism, willingly or unwillingly, must posit accidents in God. Thus Spinoza posited in God not only necessary attributes (which are, according to his theory, thought and infinite extension), but he also posited finite modes of thought and extension, these being successively produced in the world from eternity. But Spinoza never succeeded in deducing these finite modes from the divine substance, and he did not refute the doctrine of St. Thomas in the present article, in which it is shown that there can be no accident in God, since God is incapable of further determination. Likewise it follows from this that God cannot be "creative evolution," which is always capable of further determination and perfection. Creative evolution cannot be to being, as A is to A. Only the true God is the self-subsisting Being, and for this very reason He absolutely transcends the composite and changeable world.

Difficulty. We shall have the completion of this doctrine in a sub¬sequent article '40 in which it will be shown that God's free act of creation, although it would be possible for Him not to act, is not an accident. Free will in God is not as in us a faculty that must be perfected by act, but it is self-subsisting will, by which the divine good is necessarily loved, and creatable good not necessarily so. In other words, God's liberty is the dominating indifference, not of a faculty in need of perfection, but of pure act itself. Thus it is said of Him:

"God, powerful sustainer of all things,
Thou who dolt remain permanently unmoved,
Determining the course of time,
By the successions of the light of day."



State of the question. This article is a recapitulation and synthesis, as it were, of the preceding articles.

The difficulty is that creatures are but images of God, and among created things the composite are better than the simple, as chemical compounds are better than simple elements, plants than stones, and animals than plants. The higher organisms are more complex. The same is to be said of sciences that have acquired their final development.

The reply is, however, that God is absolutely simple. It is of faith, and is thus enunciated 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 (which is composite and changeable)." (41)

In the body of the article many proofs from reason are given for this conclusion. They have their foundation in the doctrine of the preceding articles, which is here recapitulated, and in the truths that God is the first Being, the first Cause, pure Act, and the self-subsisting Being.

1) From the very start, composition of many kinds is excluded, such as that of quantitative parts, of matter and form, of suppositum and nature, of essence and existence, of genus and differentia, of substance and accident. This means the exclusion of all composition, both physical and metaphysical.

2) Every composite is posterior to its component parts, and is dependent on them; but God is the first Being; (42) therefore He is absolutely simple.

To understand the major we must note that every composite is posterior to its component parts, at least by a posteriority of nature if not of time, for the composite results from the parts, and is dependent on them. Thus man results from matter and form, from body and soul. But God is the first Being according to priority not only of duration, but of nature and dignity, so that there is nothing in God that is caused or dependent, or that is resulting. Therefore He is absolutely simple.

3) Every composite has a cause; but God is the first uncaused cause; therefore in God there is no composition.

The major is explained by St. Thomas as follows: "Things in themselves different do not unite unless something causes them to unite"; or the uncaused union of different things is impossible. This principle is implicitly contained, as we have said, in the fourth way of proving God's existence, which starts in the ascending order from a consideration of diverse and imperfect composites to establish the existence of the maximum and uncaused in being. Expressed more briefly: things in themselves different, do not in themselves unite.

In another of his works, St. Thomas thus explains this principle: "A diversity of causes produces a diversity of effects." (43) In like manner he writes: "Whatever a thing may fittingly have, if it does not originate from its nature, accrues to it from an extrinsic cause; for what has no cause is first and immediate." (44) This means that what has no cause is to existence as A is to A; it not only has existence, but is identical with its existence, in virtue of the principle of identity: being is being, not-being is not-being. This principle is absolutely verified, without any lack of identity, only in the one who can say: "I am who am." (45) More briefly: the uncaused being has not existence, but is its existence.

4) In every composite there must be potentiality and actuality; but God is pure act; therefore God is in no way composite.

The major is evident, whether the reference is to essential and natural unity, or to accidental unity. If it is a question of essential unity, as in the human composite, then one part, matter, is in potentiality as regards the other. If it is a question of accidental unity, as in the proposition, the man is a musician, then the subject is to its accident as potentiality is to actuality.

5) In every composite there is something which is not it itself, or which is not predicated of it first. Thus the parts are distinguished from the whole. But since God is pure form, in fact the self-subsisting Being, there is not anything that is not predicated of Him first, for this latter would be less perfect than the self-subsisting Being, and therefore cannot be in God.

In other words, whereas no part of man is man, whatever is in God is God. Likewise, whereas the parts of the air, although they are air, are not the whole air, whatever is in God is the whole of God and not a part of Him. This has its foundation in the principle that is inserted in the body of the article about the end of the fifth proof, and which is very briefly expressed as follows: "In the form itself (that is not received), there is nothing besides itself. Hence since God is absolute form, or rather absolute being, He can be in no way composite." Thus the fourth way of proving God's existence is illustrated from on high, by the very fact that we have reached the terminus of this proof. Thus when we are on the summit of a mountain we have a better knowledge of the way that leads to it.

Reply to the first objection. It declares that there is a real distinction between created essence and existence: "It is of the essence of a thing caused, to be in some sort composite because at least its existence differs from its essence, as will be shown hereafter." (48)

Reply to the second objection. "With us composite things are better than simple things, because the perfection of created goodness cannot be found in one thing, but in many things." However, there is a certain likeness in creatures to God's higher simplicity, inasmuch as the soul is of a higher and simpler order than the body, the angel than the soul, and although a perfect science is more complex than one in its rudimentary stage, yet its tendency is toward a simplicity of a higher order, for it sees all things in a few principles. Thus we must distinguish between the lowest simplicity of pure potency, of matter, for instance, and the highest simplicity of the most pure Act. Thus this makes more complete the refutation of pantheism, namely, that God, being absolutely simple, is really and essentially distinct from the composite world.

A certain difficulty still presents itself, for according to revelation there are three distinct Persons in God. Does this mean then that God is composed of three Persons? St. Thomas considers this difficulty in one of his works, and says: "A plurality of Persons posits no composition in God. For we may consider the Pcrsons from two points of view. First in their relation to their essence with which they are identified; and thus it is evident that there is no composition remaining. Secondly we may consider them in their mutual relations, and thus they are related to one another as distinct, and not as united. For this reason neither from this point of view can there be composition: for all composition is union." (47) Elsewhere he remarks: "All the divine relations are not greater than only one; because the whole perfection of the divine nature exists in each Person"; (48) otherwise any one of the Persons would not be God.

Therefore God is absolutely simple, and it will be stated farther on that the three Persons have, in fact are, one existence, one intellect, one essential will.


Index Top


37. Ibid., q.2, a.3.

38. Ibid., q.13, a.5.

39.Ibid., q.2, a.3.

40. Ibid., q, 19, a.3.

41. Denz., no. 1782.

42. Summa theol., Ia, q.2, a.3.

43. De pot., q.3, a.5 (2a ratio).

44. Contra Gentes, Bk. II, chap. 15, §2.

45. Ex. 3: 14.

46. Summa theol., la, q.4, a.3 ad 3um.

47. De pot., q. 7, a. 1 ad 10um.

48. Summa theol., Ia, q.42, a.4 ad 3um.



"God commands not impossibilities, but by commanding he suggests to you to do what you can, to ask for what is beyond your strength; and he helps you, that you may be able."

St Augustine

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"Shun too great a desire for knowledge, for in it there is much fretting and delusion. Intellectuals like to appear learned and to be called wise. Yet there are many things the knowledge of which does little or no good to the soul, and he who concerns himself about other things than those which lead to salvation is very unwise. "

Thomas á Kempis

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"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 á Kempis

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