"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. The purpose of this article is to complete the refutation of pantheism, or to prove that God absolutely transcends the world and all finite beings.

In the title, as Cajetan observes, "enter into the composition of other things" is said of form and matter that constitute a composite, and of substance and accident. Hence the meaning is whether God can be joined to another in the entitative order, as the informing act or as potency, as if He were either the matter or soul of the world, or the common substance of the whole universe. This must be carefully considered, so as to distinguish the composition in question here from the hypostatic union, which according to revelation is possible and de facto exists. In the hypostatic union, the Word is united, indeed, in the entitative order with the humanity of Christ, but not as the informing form, but as the Person terminating the humanity and communicating to it His existence. And thus the Word does not enter into composition with Christ, because the Word is not related to Christ as a part, for the part is always less perfect than the whole.

To explain the doctrine of St. Thomas against pantheism, let us see: (1) what forms of pantheism were known to St. Thomas, which he wished to refute; (2) how he refuted them; (3) how, in accordance with the principles formulated by St. Thomas, modern pantheism can be refuted; (4) how the doctrine of St. Thomas on the divine causality preserves that portion of truth, which pantheism distorts.

This question is not of minor importance, for many and also modern philosophers tend toward pantheism. Moreover, several modernists said that St. Thomas in his treatise on the one God did not professedly consider, and therefore did not refute, pantheism.

So says Hebert.(49)

On the other hand, others said that Thomism exaggerates the divine universal causality, and that it tends toward occasionalism and pantheism, as if God alone existed and acted in every agent. Thus do those sometimes speak who reject physical promotion. Hence it must be carefully considered whether St. Thomas wished to refute various forms of pantheism. The present article already makes this point clear, for the body of the article distinguishes three forms of pantheism. The first form is of those who said that God is the soul of the world or at least of the highest heaven. It is the pantheism of the Stoics, who to some extent revived the evolutionism of Heraclitus, who taught that the principle of all things is the artificer, fire, which is endowed, as it were, with intelligence. St. Thomas mentions in this article the error spoken of by St. Augustine.(50)

This type of pantheism was to some extent retained by Spinoza, who said that God is the only substance, whose two principal attributes are thought and infinite extension, in which finite modes are distinguished, which from all eternity are successively produced in time.

The second type of pantheism to which St. Thomas alludes is of those who said; "God is the formal principle of all things" even of the lower order. So said Amalric of Chartres or of Bena, who died in 1209, and whose disciple was David of Dinant.

The third type is materialistic pantheism or rather the atheism of David of Dinant, who, as St. Thomas says, "most absurdly taught that God is prime matter." He says "most absurdly," because this teaching is quite opposed to wisdom, which judges of all things by the highest cause. David of Dinant judges of all things, even of the highest, by the lowest cause, and his is simply foolishness, which is contrary to wisdom. Thus St. Thomas, after the question on the gift of wisdom, professedly treats of folly.(51) For what is there more absurd than to say that the minds of St. John the Baptist and of St. Augustine, and their holiness, come from matter or are the result of material and blind necessity? This means that the greater comes from the less, the more perfect and the nobler from the least and the ignoble. It means a return to the doctrine of the first Ionian philosophers, to Thales, Anaximenes who said that the principle of all things is a material element, either water, air, or fire.

It must be observed that the Fourth Lateran Council condemned the pantheism of Amalric in the following words: "We reject and condemn the most perverse teaching of the impious Amalric, whose mind was so blinded by the father of lies, that his doctrine is to be considered not so much heretical as insane." (52) In like manner, the Council of Sens condemned the following error of Abelard: "The Holy Spirit is the world-soul." (53)

What has just been said suffices to show, contrary to what cetain modernists declared, that the error of pantheism was not unknown to St. Thomas. In fact, St. Thomas has elsewhere (54) explained more fully these types of pantheism, beginning with that of Parmenides. Moreover, St.Thomas refuted, as Aristotle did, (55) two ancient types of pantheism. These are: (1) the static monism of Parmenides, who reduces all things to one being, in fact, to the sole and motionless being, and this by denying change and multitude; (56) (2) the absolute evolutionism of Heraclitus, who denied the real validity of the principle of contradiction or of identity, because according to his view everything becomes, nothing is, and being and non-being are identified in the very becoming, which is its own reason for such. The first type is a sort of acosmism, the second is rather atheism.

St. Thomas, following Aristotle, solves the arguments of Parmenides by distinguishing between potency and act; and from this distinction the four kinds of causes are derived.(57) Thus becoming and multitude are explained, but as dependent on the sole supreme Cause, who is motionless and most simple. Against Heraclitus, however, St. Thomas defends the real validity of the principle of contradiction. Thus St. Thomas not only knew the various but he examined and refuted the sources of these errors.

Finally, throughout his life St. Thomas refuted Averroism, which is another type of pantheism, for the Averroists say that there is a single intellect for all men.(59)

After having explained the article we shall consider the principa ltypes of modern pantheism condemned by the Vatican Council. It suffices at present to say, as noted in the schemata of the Vatican Council,(60) that for the modern pantheists either God becomes the world, or the world becomes God.

According to Spinoza and Schelling, God, actually existing from all eternity and prior to the world, becomes the world; thus in some way we have a revival of the teachings of Parmenides and the Neoplatonists, which is descendent evolution or emanation.

On the contrary, in absolute evolutionism, according to the ascendant process of evolution, the world becomes God. According to the modern pantheists, however, absolute evolutionism appeared under two forms. It was conceived either from the materialist (Haeckel), or the idealist point of view (Hegel). It is a quasi revival of the Heraclitean evolutionism.

There is always a return to the two ancient types of pantheism those of Parmenides and Heraclitus. The former is a quasi absorption of the world in God, the latter is rather the absorption of God in the world. Thus it is clearly enough established from the history of pantheism that it cannot be defined unless it includes the tendency to deny either God or the world. From this we already see clearly the contradiction in identifying God with the world.


a) St. Thomas explains, indeed, in his commentaries on Aristotle's works (61) how this philosopher refuted Heraclitus and Parmenides by the division of being into potency and act, and also by the principle of causality: nothing is reduced from potency to act except by a being that is in act, and in the final analysis by the pure Act, who by reason of His immutability and absolute simplicity is really and essentially distinct from the changeable and composite world. But Aristotle said nothing about the divine liberty in the production of things, and so he left unanswered the question whether God, who is distinct from the world, is the cause of it by a necessity of nature or of knowledge. These questions are solve by St. Thomas himself in his own works.

b) In the body of the article St. Thomas shows that God cannot enter into the composition of other things either as the formal principle or as the matter of the world, Three proofs are given fo this in the present article, from the truth that God is (i) the first efficient Cause, (2) the first and essential Agent, (3) the first and unparticipated Being.

1) The agent and the form are not numerically identical, and the agent and matter are not so specifically; for the matter is potential whereas the agent is actual; but God is the first efficient Cause therefore He cannot be either the form or the matter of any composite.

This is a simple application of the distinction between potency and act, from which the four kinds of causes are derived. Of these the efficient and final are the extrinsic causes, whereas the form and matter are the intrinsic causes. Thus it is evident that the efficient cause is not numerically identical with either the form or the matter for nothing produces itself.
A difficulty arises concerning the proof. Perhaps God is the form of another composite, that is, of the one generating but not generated. To this Cajetan replies: "To be a composite implies being an effect (because every composite is made, as evident from the preceding article)"; but every effect depends on the first efficient cause; therefore the first efficient cause is neither the form nor the matter of any composite, because it would be the form or matter of its effect, which is impossible, since the agent is not numerical identical either with the form or matter of its effect, as was said.

2) No part of, the composite is primarily and essentially the agent but God is primarily and essentially the agent; therefore God not a part of any composite.

The major is illustrated by the following example: "For the hand does not act, but the man by his hand." St. Thomas does not mean by this, as Cajetan observes, that the composite is primarily and essentially an agent. On the contrary, he said (62) that God is primarily and essentially an agent, therefore He is primarily and essentially a form, that is, a form separated from matter; in fact He is the Being that is not received in another.

3) The major is evident, for matter is potency, and thus is posterior to act and less perfect. But the form which is part of a compound is a participated form; and as that which participates is posterior to that which is essential, so likewise is that which is participated. Therefore no part of a compound can be absolutely primal among beings.

These three proofs can be compendiously expressed as follows: God is not the matter of the world, because matter which is potency or capacity susceptible to further determination, can be determined only by another, namely, by an agent, and in the final analysis by the first agent, who is His activity and His being. (First, second, and third proofs of God's existence.)

Moreover, God is not the form of the world, because thus He would be something participated and less perfect than the composite of which He would be a part. In fact, everything composite requires a cause.(63) Therefore God must be superior to everything composite, as being the absolutely simple and unchangeable cause, not capable of further determination.

N.B. In the hypostatic union, the Word is not a part, either as matter or as informing act, but as terminating act, just as in some way, in the order of being as in that of intelligence, the divine essence clearly seen terminates the intellect of the blessed. This is a mystery, and the existence or even the possibility of this can be neither proved nor disproved by reason. Apparent contradiction is excluded, since the terminating perfection is not participated as an informing form. Thus the statue of Moses seen by me, terminates my vision, but it is not something participated in me, as is the case with the representative similitude which is received in the visual faculty. Thus the confusion of the divine and human natures is avoided in the hypostatic union. They remain unconfused, and the one is not to the other as matter is to form.

Even if God were to unite Himself hypostatically to all created natures, this would not result in pantheism, for there could not be a fusion of the assumed natures with the divine nature. We know from revelation that God is hypostatically united only with Christ's humanity, and if He were united with the humanity of other human beings, these would be impeccable as Christ is, which is manifestly not so.

We shall find the completion of the refutation of pantheism in two subsequent articles, (64) in which St. Thomas shows that God did not produce the world either by a necessity of His nature, or by a necessity of science, but with absolute freedom: (1) because God's goodness, which He necessarily loves with utmost joy, is infinite and can exist without other things, "inasmuch as no perfection can accrue to Him from them"; (2) because God acts not only freely but immediately by His intellect and will in things external to Himself, not by nature as man does in freely generating. For every natural agent by the very fact that it acts for an end must be directed by the supreme and intelligent agent (fifth way). Therefore already from the fifth way of proving God's existence it is to some extent clear that God acts by His intellect and will.(65)

Finally, emanatism is refuted when St. Thomas denies that the soul is of God's substance,(66) for God would be material if things were not produced from nothing, but from God's substance as their re-existing subject. Thus God's substance would not be His existence, for He would be capable of further determination. In like manner, he shows that there cannot be one intellect for all men,(67) nor even one active intellect for all; (68) for the human soul, which is intellectual, is the form of the body and is multiplied with the body. The same man understands that he understands, and that he wills freely.

Summing up, we must therefore say that these refutations of pantheism proceed from the five proofs for God's existence, and they can be reduced to this one statement of the Vatican Council: "God is really and essentially distinct from the (mutable and composite) world," (69) for He is required as the absolutely immutable Cause (first, second, and third proofs), and is absolutely simple and perfect (fourth and fifth proofs).


Index Top


49. Cf. "La derniere idole" (Revue de Metaphysigiee et de Morale, July, 1902).

50. Cf. De Civitate Dei, Bk. VII, chap. 6, in which the doctrine of Varro is discussed.

51. Summa theol., IIa IIae, q.46.

52. Denz., no. 433.

53. Ibid., no. 370.

54. Com. in II Sent., d. 17, q.1, a.2.

55. Com. in Met., Bk. I, chap. 9; in Phys., Bk. I, chap. 8.

56. Parmenides said: It is only from being or from non-being that something could come. But being does not come from being, because it is already being; just as a statue does not come from a statue, because it is already a statue.
To this Aristotle replies: Being does not come from actual being, this I concede; but being does come from potential being, just as the plant comes from the seed, and the animal from the semen.
In like manner, Yarmenides denied multiplicity in being, because being cannot be diversified by itself, but only by another, and what is not being is nothing. To this Aristotle replies that being is not univocal but analogous, and is predicated in various ways of different beings. Also act is multiplied by the potency in which it is received, just as the form of a lion or man is by matter.

57. See Physics, Bk. I; Afet., Bks. IX, X1I.

58. See Met., Bk. IV (almost in toto), but especially chaps. 35.

59. See the opusculum of St. Thomas, De unitate Dei, against the Averroists; also Summa theol., Ia, q.76, a. 1: "Whether there is one intellect for all men"; also Contra Gentes, Bk. 11, chap. 23: "That God does not act by a necessity of His nature or by a necessity of knowledge"; also chaps. 26-29.

60. Cf. Vacant, Etudes sue le Concile du Vatican, 1, 200, 211 f., 230-44, 571, 581.

61. Cf. Com. in Phys., Bk. I, chap. 8, lect. 14; in Met., Bk. I, chap. 9; Bk. IV, chap. 3(end); Bks. XI, XII, De actu puro.

62. Summa theol., la, q.3, a.2.

63. Ibid., a.7.

64. Ibid., q, 19, a.3f.

65. Consult also on this point Contra Gentes, Bk. II, chaps. 23, 26-29, in which St. Thomas says against the Averroists that God does not act by a necessity of His nature or of His intellect.

66. Sumrna theol., Ila, q. 90, a. 1.

67. Ibid., q. 76, a.2.

68. Ibid., q.79, a.5.

69. Denz., no. 1782.




"Try to turn your heart from the love of things visible and bring yourself to things invisible. For they who follow their own evil passions stain their consciences and lose the grace of God. "

Thomas á Kempis

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"Whoever wants to stand alone without the support of a master and guide will be like the tree that stands alone in a field without a proprietor. No matter how much the tree bears, passers-by will pick the fruit before it ripens. "

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

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"There is nothing which gives greater security to our actions, or more effectually cuts the snares the devil lays for us, than to follow another person’s will, rather than our own, in doing good."

St Philip Neri

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