"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

 
THE ONE GOD
— A Commentary on the First Part of St Thomas' Theological Summa

by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O. P.


CHAPTER 9

Question 9: The Immutability of God

From the truth that God is the self-subsisting Being, we have thus far deduced that He is absolutely simple, perfect and good, infinite and immense, and everywhere present inasmuch as He maintains all things in being. From the very fact that God is the self-subsisting Being, it likewise follows that He is absolutely immutable, with an immutability not of inertia but of supreme perfection, which belongs to God alone.

We shall see that, although this immutability is expressed in negative terms (inasmuch as our knowledge is first of mutable things), yet in itself it is something absolutely positive; and it can be expressed by the word "stability," whereas the mutability of things in the world is their instability.

Evolutionist philosophy does its utmost to eliminate the word "stability," for it maintains that all immutability is imperfect, being like the immobility of an inert, lifeless thing. On the contrary, supreme life is absolutely immutable or supremely stable. The refutation of. pantheism is completed in this question, inasmuch as the self-subsisting Being, since He is absolutely identical with Himself and stable, is really and essentially distinct from the changeable world and from the soul that is always capable of further perfection in knowledge and love. There are now two points of inquiry: (1i) Is God altogether immutable? (2) Does it belong to God alone to be altogether immutable?

FIRST ARTICLE
WHETHER GOD IS ALTOGETHER IMMUTABLE

State of the question. The difficulty here is that St. Augustine says: "The Creator Spirit moves Himself neither by time nor by place."(1) In like manner wisdom is said to be more mobile than all active things. (2) We also read in the Scripture: "Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you." (3) In all these utterances we must distinguish between the metaphorical and the literal sense. The analysis of concepts contained in revelation is of great importance in speculative theology, and this is prior to the deduction of the theological conclusion. This point is brought out clearly in the present article, in which the reply is not a theological conclusion but an explanatory proposition of the faith.

Reply. God is altogether immutable. This must be stated most emphatically against absolute and pantheistic evolutionism.

This truth is expressed in Holy Scripture by the following texts: "I am the Lord and I change not." (4) "God is not a man, that He should lie; nor as the son of man, that He should be changed."(5) "The heavens shall perish, but Thou remainest; and all of them shall grow old like a garment. And as a vesture Thou shalt change them, and they shall be changed, but Thou art always the selfsame, and Thy years shall not fail."(6) "For she is the brightness of eternal light. . . . And being but one, she can do all things; and remaining in herself the same, she reneweth all things, and through nations conveyeth herself into holy souls." "Every best gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of 1ights, with whom there is no change, nor shadow of alteration." 8 "And they changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of the image of a corruptible man." (9)

The councils on several occasions also affirmed God's immutability. Thus the Council of Nicaea anathematizes those who say tliat the Son of God is "changeable." (10) The Fourth Lateran Council says: "We firmly believe and absolutely confess that the one and only God is eternal, immense, and unchangeable." " In like manner, the Vatican Council declares: "God, as being one, sole, absolutely simple and immutable spiritual substance, is to be declared as really, and essentially distinct from the world." (12)

Three proofs are given from reason that God is absolutely immutable: (i) inasmuch as He is pure Act; (2) inasmuch as He is absolutely simple; (3) inasmuch as He is not perfectible.

1) Everything that is changeable must be in potentiality, as receiving determination; but God is pure Act without the admixture of any potentiality, because He is the first Being (fourth proof), and act is absolutely prior to potentiality; therefore God is absolutely immutable.(13)

It is, indeed, quite clear that potentiality is spoken of with reference to its act, and, in the order of dignity and nature, it presupposes this act. If, then, there were potentiality in God, He would not be really the first Being, and there could be imperfection in Him; a certain part in Him would not be God. He would thus be no longer the self-subsisting Being. But if He were not the self-subsisting Being, then existence would be predicated contingently of Him. Thus God would be participated being; He would be like the highest angel in whom there is an admixture of potentiality, namely, essence subordinate to existence, and an operative faculty that is subordinate to operation. There is here a recapitulation of what was said on this subject, but without repetition, which is somewhat like circular contemplation. (14)

God's immutability is proved from His absolute simplicity. Indeed, everything that is mutable is in some way composite; for it partly remains as it was, and partly passes away, or at least can do so. This means that it is variable. In other words, every mutation presupposes a subject that is susceptible to variation. Thus in everything that is moved, there is some kind of composition to be found; but there cannot be any composition in God.

God's immutability is proved from the fact that He is not susceptible to further perfection. For indeed everything that is moved acquires something. But God, since He is the very plenitude of being, cannot acquire anything; nor can He lose anything, for He is the necessary Being, the self-subsisting Being.

This must be said in refutation of absolute evolutionism, whether of the idealist type as proposed by Hegel or of the empirical type as proposed by Henry Bergson. Hence universal being, which according to Hegel's opinion is the principle of all things, cannot be the true God; for, if it were, it would be the self-subsisting Being, absolutely immutable or stable, incapable of any evolution. Absolute evolutionism must say that the principle of all things is "the creative evolution of itself." It then admits that something becomes universal which is its own reason for this. Such an admission means the denial of the real or ontological validity of the principle of identity or of contradiction (being and non-being are identified in this becoming, which is its own reason for such); it likewise means the denial of the real validity of the principle of efficient causality and of finality; for the evolution of anything to something more perfect would always tend to this without any efficient cause and without being directed to any end. Thus the greater would always be produced from the less, the more perfect from the less perfect; for there is more in what exists than in what is becoming and does not as yet exist; there is more in the adult and developed man than in the embryo and the child.

Corollary. Hence the immobility of inertia, which is inferior to motion and our activity, must not be confused with the immobility of perfection, which is the supreme stability of Him who is self-subsisting Being, Intelligence, and Love. These two immutabilities are distinct, just as the infinity of matter, which is always capable of further determination and perfection, is distinct from the infinity of perfection, as was stated above.(15) Thus equally so, supreme and permanent contemplation is distinct from the ever changeable aberrations of error, as also the supreme love of the supreme good is distinct from the human emotions.(16)

Reply to first objection. Augustine says that "God moves Himself neither by time nor by place," meaning that God's mode of operation, namely, by understanding, willing, and loving, transcends time. The expression is metaphorical, and it owes its origin to the fact that there is no intellection in us without movement or transition from ignorance to knowledge. Hence what must be carefully considered in analogy, is the analogical concept, which is attributed formally and analogically to God (such as life, intellection, love), and the imperfect and created mode (movement), which is not attributed properly but only metaphorically to God.

Reply to second objection. Wisdom (17) is called mobile by way of similitude, or metaphorically, not formally but causally, according as it diffuses its likeness even to the outermost of things. This means that it is mobile, not in itself, but according as it produces all mutations of things. We find this stated in the canonical hour of none as follows:

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

Thus also metaphorically and causally God is said to be angry, inasmuch as, like an angry man, He punishes sinners.

Reply to third objection. In like manner, it is in a metaphorical sense that God is said to approach to us inasmuch as we receive the influx of His goodness.

 

Index Top

Footnotes

1. De Gen. ad lit., Bk. VIII, chap. 20.

2. Wis. 7: 24.

3. James 4: 8.

4. Mal. 3: 6.

5. Num. 23: 19.

6. Ps.101: 27.

7. Wis. 7: 26 f.

8. James 1: 17.

9. Rom.1: 23. See also Eccles. 42: 16; Prov. 19: 21.

10. Denz., no. 54.

11. Ibid., no. 428.

12. Ibid., no. 1782.

13. Aristotle affirmed this in his Metaphysics, Bk. XII, chaps. 7, 9.

14. Summa theol., IIa IIae, q, 100, a.6.

15. Summa theol., la, q.7, a. 1.

16. See what St. Thomas says farther on (Ia, q. 18, a.3), in the article entitled: "Whether life is attributed to God," which discusses God's absolutely immobile and most perfectly stable life, a life that is without variation and succession, and that is measured by eternity, as stated in q. 10, a.2.

 

 

"A single act of uniformity with the divine will suffices to make a saint."

St Alphonsus de Liguori

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"If, devout soul, it is your will to please God and live a life of serenity in this world, unite yourself always and in all things to the divine will. Reflect that all the sins of your past wicked life happened because you wandered from the path of God's will. For the future, embrace God's good pleasure and say to him in every happening: "Yea, Father, for so it hath seemed good in thy sight." "

St Alphonsus de Liguori

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"Spiritual persons ought to be equally ready to experience sweetness and consolation in the things of God, or to suffer and keep their ground in drynesses of spirit and devotion, and for as long as God pleases, without their making any complaint about it."

St Philip Neri

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