"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 8: The Existence of God in Things



State of the question. The subject of inquiry in this article is whether God is not only in all things, but also in all places, inasmuch as they are places. The liquid is formally in the dish inasmuch as it is a place, whereas the picture is in the painted dish, inasmuch as it is a thing, and not formally inasmuch as it is a place. Can it be said that God is in a place, and in all places?

It seems this cannot be said of God, because incorporeal things are not in a place. Moreover, if God could be in a place, then He could not be everywhere, because He is indivisible and unextended, and because, if He were in a place, He would be there totally, and therefore He would not be everywhere.

Reply. God is in all places not absolutely but relatively, inas much as they are formally places. The reason is that God is in a place, not as a body is by filling the place to the exclusion of another body, but because He gives being to all things placed, and also to the real place itself, or to the surface of the encompassing body. Hence God does not exclude other things from being there, but He causes things placed to be there.

Reply to first objection. Incorporeal things are in place by virtual contact.

Reply to second objection. God is indivisible, though not like a point which is the term of the continuous, for He is outside the whole genus of the continuous. Thus, unlike the point, He can be everywhere, and for this it suffices that He maintain all bodies in being by His divine power.

Reply to third objection. God, inasmuch as He preserves things in being, is whole in all and in each of them, somewhat as the soul, somewhat as the soul is in the entire body and whole (by a totality of essence) in each and every part of it. Even whiteness is whole, by a totality of essence in each and every part of the wall, but it is not whole by a totality of extension.

Descartes, who is referred to, and rightly so, as an extreme spiritualist since he denies that the soul is the form of the body, did not properly understand the indivisibility of the soul; he viewed it in a sort of material way as if it were a point, saying that the soul can contact the body only in one point, namely, the pineal gland. Likewise Leibnitz calls the monads metaphysical points. They failed to see that the substantial form is indivisible, not as a point is, but inasmuch as it is outside the whole genus of the continuous, as St. Thomas says in this article; (24) and so it can be whole in each and every part of the body. With far greater reason it must be said that God, not as form, but as agent, maintains things in being.


State of the question. The purpose of this article is to explain the classical statement of St. Gregory quoted in the counterargument, that "God by a common mode is in all things by His Presence, power, and substance; still He is said to be present more familiarly in some by grace." (25)

In the body of the article St. Thomas distinguishes between God's general presence by way of agent in all things and His special presence in the just inasmuch as He is present in them as the object of quasi-experimental knowledge in the knower,(28) and as the beloved is in the lover, and especially so in the blessed, being in them as clearly seen .(27)

This article mentions the three ways by which God, after the manner of an agent, is in all things: (1) by His power, inasmuch as all things are subject to His power, as the King of the universe; (2) by His presence, inasmuch as all things are bare and open to His eyes, since all things, even the smallest, are the immediate object of divine providence; (28) (3) by His essence, inasmuch as God's essence, which is not really distinct from His omnipotence and preservative action, is present to all things as the cause of their being.(29)

The error of the Manichaeans was in denying God's universal presence by His power, maintaining that corporeal things were not subject to His power. Others, such as Plato and Aristotle, denied that individual things are the immediate concern of God's providence. If Aristotle admitted a certain general providence, as the Averroists did later on, he did not acknowledge its extension to each particular thing.

Also, since he never had a clear idea of creation, he could not conceive of God's existence in all things. We see that great advance has been made on this point from the time of Aristotle to that of St. Thomas. This has been accomplished by the light of revelation, which is truly like a guiding star for the Christian philosopher, and it is, moreover, the proper light of theology, whose objectum formale quo is virtual revelation.(30)

In the body of the article St. Thomas notes that there were certain philosophers who, although they said all things are subject to God's providence, still maintained that all things are not immediately created by God, but that He immediately created the first creatures, and these created the others. So thought certain Neoplatonists. If such were the case, God would not be present by His essence in inferior things, because He would not have immediately created them and would not immediately preserve them in being.

On the other hand, according to revelation it is certain that "God, with absolute freedom of counsel, created out of nothing, from the beginning of time, both the spiritual and the corporeal creature, namely, the angelic and the mundane; and afterward the human creature, as partaking, in a sense, of both, consisting of spirit and of body." (31)

Certainly it is only by creation from nothing that the angels, the soul, and matter can be produced, for these are not educed from any presupposed subject; it is equally certain that they can be immediately maintained in being only by God. In this there is a vast difference between our Catholic faith and the teaching of Aristotle, which says nothing either about God's liberty, or about His absolute freedom in creating all things. Aristotle wrote very well the elements of metaphysics, as Euclid did those of geometry, but he never soared to the sublime in metaphysics, except in a very imperfect way, when he spoke of the pure Act as "the self-contemplative thought" or the self-subsistent intellection.(32)

In reply to the fourth objection we should note the following: "No other perfection except grace, added to substance, renders God present in anything as the object known and loved; therefore only grace constitutes a special mode of God's existence in things. There is, however, another special mode of God's existence in man by the (hypostatic) union."

This is explained in a subsequent article.(33) There we see that the philosophical knowledge of God, which can be acquired without grace, does not suffice for His special presence; for God is known only in an abstract way, as something distant, not as something really present. On the contrary, by habitual grace and living faith enlightened by the gift of wisdom, a quasi-experimental knowledge of God can be acquired and sometimes He is known as the principle of our interior life, prompting us to intimate acts of filial love, as St. Paul assures us in the following passage: "The Spirit Himself giveth testimony to our spirit that we are the sons of' God." (34) St. Thomas, explaining this text in his commentary on this epistle, says that the Spirit gives testimony by means of the filial love which He arouses in us, as when the disciples going to Emmaus said: "Was not our heart burning within us whilst He spoke in the way?" (35)

From this it cannot be argued against what was said in the first article of this question, that there is another way by which God can be present in all things than by His preservative action; for this special presence presupposes the general presence, that is, God gives being to the just; in fact, He causes and effectively preserves charity in them. Thus He preserves the humanity of Christ, which is hypostatically united to the Word.


State of the question. The purpose of this article is to determine more accurately the mode of the divine omnipresence, and to distinguish it from the mode of omnipresence of universal being, prime matter, the universe, and the human soul that sees even remote stars. As Augustine says: "The soul feels where it sees, and lives where it feels, and is where it lives." (36)
Reply. To be everywhere primarily and absolutely, belongs properly to God alone.

1) Proof from authority. St. Ambrose says: "Who dares to call the Holy Ghost a creature, who in all things and everywhere and always is, which assuredly belongs to the Divinity alone." (37)

2) Proof from reason. That is everywhere absolutely and primarily, which is everywhere not accidentally but necessarily, and immediately in its whole self, and not according to its parts in different places. But God alone, after creation, is necessarily and immediately in His whole self in all things and places, for He maintains all things in being. Therefore, to be everywhere belongs primarily and absolutely to God alone.

In opposition to what is stated in the major and in explanation of it, it may be said that a grain of sand would be accidentally everywhere, on the supposition that no other body existed. But God, after creation, is necessarily everywhere, no matter what may be the number of things and places, even though the number of places should be infinite.(38)

Moreover, contrary to this, the whole world is everywhere, not primarily or immediately, namely in its whole self, but according to its different parts.(39)

Reply to first objection. Abstract being and prime matter are indeed everywhere, but not according to the same mode of existence. This view is moderate realism. Contrary to this, extreme realism confuses abstract being with the divine being, inasmuch as it maintains that the universal (in predication) exists formally and not only fundamentally in the objective world, that is, extramentally. If it were so, pantheism would be true, and abstract being would be everywhere according to the same mode of existence. God would not only preserve immediately the being of all things, but He would be the very being of all things.

Prime matter is everywhere, but not according to the same mode of existence, for it receives its existence from the form, and under the different quantitative dimensions of the universe the form is not the same, and consequently neither is the matter the same according to existence. However, prime matter is negatively one, inasmuch as there are not two prime matters.

Reply to sixth objection. How are we to understand St. Augustine when he says: "Where the soul sees and feels, there it lives and is"? He must be understood as meaning that the soul, seeing the heavens, reaches the heavens as object; but subjectively it lives only in itself, because to live is an immanent act. Hence it does not follow that the soul is everywhere. Seeing is an immanent act, but the thing seen is not immanent, whatever the idealists may say. In fact, there can be no true seeing (as distinct from hallucination) without a thing seen, or a true sensation without an object of sense perception, or a true sensation of resistance without a resistant object. "Bodily vision (as distinct from imaginary apparition) is that whereby the object seen exists outside the person beholding it and can accordingly be seen by all. Now by such vision only a body can be seen."(40) Hence the soul, although it is not everywhere, can see even remote bodies; it is, of course, in the very act of seeing, in transcendental relation to these bodies.

With this we conclude the question of God's existence in things, a question in which immensity must be carefully distinguished from omnipresence, namely, aptitude to exist in all things from actual existence in them. Before creation, God was immense, but He was not everywhere, because there were not things and places in which God was; but He was with Himself, in Himself, for as the Gospel says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (41)



Index Top


24. Cf. ad 2um.

25. Com. on Cant. Cantic, 5: 17.

26. So it is with faith that is illumined by the gift of wisdom. Thus God is, as it were, experimentally knowable, and sometimes He is actually known.

27. Summa theol., Ia, q.43, a.3.

28. Ibid., q.22, a.3.

29. See q.8, a. 1.

30. See p. 57, no. 37.

31. Denz., nos. 428, 1784.

32. Metaph., Bk. XII.

33. Summa theol., Ia, q..43, a. 3.

34. Rom. 8:16.

35. Luke 24: 32.

36. Epist. 3a ad Volusianum.

37. De Spiritu Sancto, Bk. I, chap. 7.

38. Cf. ad 5um.

39. Cf. ad 3um.

40. Ibid., Ia, q.5i, a.2.

41. John 1:1.



"The one thing necessary which Jesus spoke of to Martha and Mary consists in hearing the word of God and living by it."

R. Garrigou-Lagrange, OP

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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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"It is not God's will that we should abound in spiritual delights, but that in all things we should submit to his holy will."

Blessed Henry Suso

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