Lengthy Response to a Thomist

N. writes:

No offense Jay, but you are operating on multiple, severely flawed groundworks. For example:

1) Thomas never taught God was like a blob of jello such that ‘Father = Son’. That is a unfair cariacture of texts like ST 1-39. You are not accepting “Father is God” is what Thomas is saying, just as if I were to say “Jay is human.”

I didn’t take anything in Thomas out of context and it’s not just question 39 where he says this. Aquinas teaches his view clearly in numerous places in the Summa, and he’s only saying what Augustine and Anselm said before him. Thomas’ scheme is a system and it all stands together.

1. God is an absolutely simple essence where will, action, attribute, generation, procession and Person are all identical to the essence. Let’s see proof of this:

For Thomas, there can be no distinctions in God, for because of Aristotelian assumptions, ALL distinction implies composition. Hence, as the famous Thomistic dictum Goes He (person) is His essence:

Nicholas’ construal as per his example of saying “Jay is human” is true, but that is not Thomas’ view, because Nicholas and all of us accept that Jay is a particular person and thus nature is another distinct from person. I am not literally the same as all of human nature, for that would mean that I am all humans. for Aquinas, this is a genus/species distinction that cannot apply to God, because all distinction implies division and composition. If you read the first volume of the Summa, Thomas says this probably 50 times.

In fact in that very question of the Summa, Thomas uses N,’s very example and says it does not work in application to God:

“I answer that, God is the same as His essence or nature. To understand this, it must be noted that in things composed of matter and form, the nature or essence must differ from the “suppositum,” because the essence or nature connotes only what is included in the definition of the species; as, humanity connotes all that is included in the definition of man, for it is by this that man is man, and it is this that humanity signifies, that, namely, whereby man is man. Now individual matter, with all the individualizing accidents, is not included in the definition of the species. For this particular flesh, these bones, this blackness or whiteness, etc., are not included in the definition of a man. Therefore this flesh, these bones, and the accidental qualities distinguishing this particular matter, are not included in humanity; and yet they are included in the thing which is man. Hence the thing which is a man has something more in it than has humanity. Consequently humanity and a man are not wholly identical; but humanity is taken to mean the formal part of a man, because the principles whereby a thing is defined are regarded as the formal constituent in regard to the individualizing matter. On the other hand, in things not composed of matter and form, in which individualization is not due to individual matter–that is to say, to “this” matter–the very forms being individualized of themselves–it is necessary the forms themselves should be subsisting “supposita.” Therefore “suppositum” and nature in them are identified. Since God then is not composed of matter and form, He must be His own Godhead, His own Life, and whatever else is thus predicated of Him.”

This proves my analysis of Thomas is correct on this point, as he word-for-word rejects your very argument.

In the next couple articles, Aquinas explains:

“Whence as God is absolute primal being, there can be in Him nothing accidental. Neither can He have any essential accidents (as the capability of laughing is an essential accident of man), because such accidents are caused by the constituent principles of the subject. Now there can be nothing caused in God, since He is the first cause. Hence it follows that there is no accident in God.”

We might ask Thomas – in what sense do you take God to be “absolutely simple” in regards to your detractors who continually bitch about “absolute divine simplicity”? Thomas has a question devoted to just that:

“Article 7. Whether God is altogether simple?
Objection 1. It seems that God is not altogether simple. For whatever is from God must imitate Him. Thus from the first being are all beings; and from the first good is all good. But in the things which God has made, nothing is altogether simple. Therefore neither is God altogether simple.

Objection 2. Further, whatever is best must be attributed to God. But with us that which is composite is better than that which is simple; thus, chemical compounds are better than simple elements, and animals than the parts that compose them. Therefore it cannot be said that God is altogether simple.

On the contrary, Augustine says (De Trin. iv, 6,7): “God is truly and absolutely simple.”

I answer that, The absolute simplicity of God may be shown in many ways.

First, from the previous articles of this question. For there is neither composition of quantitative parts in God, since He is not a body; nor composition of matter and form; nor does His nature differ from His “suppositum”; nor His essence from His existence; neither is there in Him composition of genus and difference, nor of subject and accident. Therefore, it is clear that God is nowise composite, but is altogether simple.

Secondly, because every composite is posterior to its component parts, and is dependent on them; but God is the first being, as shown above (Question 2, Article 3).

Thirdly, because every composite has a cause, for things in themselves different cannot unite unless something causes them to unite. But God is uncaused, as shown above (Question 2, Article 3), since He is the first efficient cause.

Fourthly, because in every composite there must be potentiality and actuality; but this does not apply to God; for either one of the parts actuates another, or at least all the parts are potential to the whole.

Fifthly, because nothing composite can be predicated of any single one of its parts. And this is evident in a whole made up of dissimilar parts; for no part of a man is a man, nor any of the parts of the foot, a foot. But in wholes made up of similar parts, although something which is predicated of the whole may be predicated of a part (as a part of the air is air, and a part of water, water), nevertheless certain things are predicable of the whole which cannot be predicated of any of the parts; for instance, if the whole volume of water is two cubits, no part of it can be two cubits. Thus in every composite there is something which is not it itself. But, even if this could be said of whatever has a form, viz. that it has something which is not it itself, as in a white object there is something which does not belong to the essence of white; nevertheless in the form itself, there is nothing besides itself. And so, since God is absolute form, or rather absolute being, He can be in no way composite. Hilary implies this argument, when he says (De Trin. vii): “God, Who is strength, is not made up of things that are weak; nor is He Who is light, composed of things that are dim.”

Reply to Objection 1. Whatever is from God imitates Him, as caused things imitate the first cause. But it is of the essence of a thing to be in some sort composite; because at least its existence differs from its essence, as will be shown hereafter, (4, 3).

Reply to Objection 2. With us composite things are better than simple things, because the perfections of created goodness cannot be found in one simple thing, but in many things. But the perfection of divine goodness is found in one simple thing (4, 1 and 6, 2).”


This is important because it conditions all of Thomas’ views for the rest of the Summa. We know what he means by simplicity because it’s working within an Aristotelian synthesis where distinction is composition and substance/accidents apply to creatures but can in no way apply to God. But clearly we speak of God in different ways, so how do we do this? We do this by creaturely analogy, but the varioous analogies are not real.

The way we apply names to God is explained in question 13. All throughout, Thomas makes clear that we name God analogically because creatures partake of the perfections of the Frist and Exemplar Cause, namely God. Thomas explains:

Q. 13.1.1:

“On the contrary, It is written (Exodus 15:3): “The Lord is a man of war, Almighty is His name.”

I answer that, Since according to the Philosopher (Peri Herm. i), words are signs of ideas, and ideas the similitude of things, it is evident that words relate to the meaning of things signified through the medium of the intellectual conception. It follows therefore that we can give a name to anything in as far as we can understand it. Now it was shown above (12, 11, 12) that in this life we cannot see the essence of God; but we know God from creatures as their principle, and also by way of excellence and remotion. In this way therefore He can be named by us from creatures, yet not so that the name which signifies Him expresses the divine essence in itself. Thus the name “man” expresses the essence of man in himself, since it signifies the definition of man by manifesting his essence; for the idea expressed by the name is the definition.”


As we’ve argued all along, of course Thomas wasn’t saying that humans in this life comprehend or exhaustively know the essence of God. That seeing and knowing of the essence of God is reserved for the beatific vision, but Thomas DOES think that in this life we do get a glimpse of the divine essence by the creatures which have “proceeded” and “emanated” from that essence (to use his terminology).

He continues:

“Reply to Objection 2. Because we know and name God from creatures [analogis entis], the names we attribute to God signify what belongs to material creatures, of which the knowledge is natural to us. And because in creatures of this kind what is perfect and subsistent is compound; whereas their form is not a complete subsisting thing, but rather is that whereby a thing is; hence it follows that all names used by us to signify a complete subsisting thing must have a concrete meaning as applicable to compound things; whereas names given to signify simple forms, signify a thing not as subsisting, but as that whereby a thing is; as, for instance, whiteness signifies that whereby a thing is white. And as God is simple, and subsisting, we attribute to Him abstract names to signify His simplicity, and concrete names to signify His substance and perfection, although both these kinds of names fail to express His mode of being, forasmuch as our intellect does not know Him in this life as He is.”

So the analogical names we use do apply to His essence, but not fully or perfectly, because they are based on creatures. But the key here is that we are predicating things of God’s essence based on creaturely images. For example, creatures have contingent “being.” This is a pale reflection of the non-contingent First Super Being.

Someone might argue as Ben Mann did, “Look, Thomas says we don’t fully know the essence, so it’s nto Eunomianism.” Sure, that’s not the sole basis for the charge of Eunomianism. The problem gets worse. Thomas explains in what sense he takes the analogia entis to be. Notice that the FIRST OBJECTION IS THE DAMASCENE”S ARGUMENT FOR ESSENCE/ENERGY:

“Article 2. Whether any name can be applied to God substantially?
Objection 1. It seems that no name can be applied to God substantially. For Damascene says (De Fide Orth. i, 9): “Everything said of God signifies not His substance, but rather shows forth what He is not; or expresses some relation, or something following from His nature or operation.”

Objection 2. Further, Dionysius says (Div. Nom. i): “You will find a chorus of holy doctors addressed to the end of distinguishing clearly and praiseworthily the divine processions in the denomination of God.” Thus the names applied by the holy doctors in praising God are distinguished according to the divine processions themselves. But what expresses the procession of anything, does not signify its essence. Therefore the names applied to God are not said of Him substantially.

Objection 3. Further, a thing is named by us according as we understand it. But God is not understood by us in this life in His substance. Therefore neither is any name we can use applied substantially to God.

On the contrary, Augustine says (De Trin. vi): “The being of God is the being strong, or the being wise, or whatever else we may say of that simplicity whereby His substance is signified.” Therefore all names of this kind signify the divine substance.

I answer that, Negative names applied to God, or signifying His relation to creatures manifestly do not at all signify His substance, but rather express the distance of the creature from Him, or His relation to something else, or rather, the relation of creatures to Himself.

But as regards absolute and affirmative names of God, as “good,” “wise,” and the like, various and many opinions have been given. For some have said that all such names, although they are applied to God affirmatively, nevertheless have been brought into use more to express some remotion from God, rather than to express anything that exists positively in Him. Hence they assert that when we say that God lives, we mean that God is not like an inanimate thing; and the same in like manner applies to other names; and this was taught by Rabbi Moses. Others say that these names applied to God signify His relationship towards creatures: thus in the words, “God is good,” we mean, God is the cause of goodness in things; and the same rule applies to other names.

Both of these opinions, however, seem to be untrue for three reasons.

First because in neither of them can a reason be assigned why some names more than others are applied to God. For He is assuredly the cause of bodies in the same way as He is the cause of good things; therefore if the words “God is good,” signified no more than, “God is the cause of good things,” it might in like manner be said that God is a body, inasmuch as He is the cause of bodies. So also to say that He is a body implies that He is not a mere potentiality, as is primary matter.

Secondly, because it would follow that all names applied to God would be said of Him by way of being taken in a secondary sense, as healthy is secondarily said of medicine, forasmuch as it signifies only the cause of the health in the animal which primarily is called healthy.

Thirdly, because this is against the intention of those who speak of God. For in saying that God lives, they assuredly mean more than to say the He is the cause of our life, or that He differs from inanimate bodies.

Therefore we must hold a different doctrine–viz. that these names signify the divine substance, and are predicated substantially of God, although they fall short of a full representation of Him. Which is proved thus. For these names express God, so far as our intellects know Him. Now since our intellect knows God from creatures, it knows Him as far as creatures represent Him. Now it is shown above (Question 4, Article 2) that God prepossesses in Himself all the perfections of creatures, being Himself simply and universally perfect. Hence every creature represents Him, and is like Him so far as it possesses some perfection; yet it represents Him not as something of the same species or genus, but as the excelling principle of whose form the effects fall short, although they derive some kind of likeness thereto, even as the forms of inferior bodies represent the power of the sun. This was explained above (Question 4, Article 3), in treating of the divine perfection. Therefore the aforesaid names signify the divine substance, but in an imperfect manner, even as creatures represent it imperfectly. So when we say, “God is good,” the meaning is not, “God is the cause of goodness,” or “God is not evil”; but the meaning is, “Whatever good we attribute to creatures, pre-exists in God,” and in a more excellent and higher way. Hence it does not follow that God is good, because He causes goodness; but rather, on the contrary, He causes goodness in things because He is good; according to what Augustine says (De Doctr. Christ. i, 32), “Because He is good, we are.”

Reply to Objection 1. Damascene says that these names do not signify what God is, forasmuch as by none of these names is perfectly expressed what He is; but each one signifies Him in an imperfect manner, even as creatures represent Him imperfectly.

Reply to Objection 2. In the significance of names, that from which the name is derived is different sometimes from what it is intended to signify, as for instance, this name “stone” [lapis] is imposed from the fact that it hurts the foot [loedit pedem], but it is not imposed to signify that which hurts the foot, but rather to signify a certain kind of body; otherwise everything that hurts the foot would be a stone [This refers to the Latin etymology of the word “lapis” which has no place in English]. So we must say that these kinds of divine names are imposed from the divine processions; for as according to the diverse processions of their perfections, creatures are the representations of God, although in an imperfect manner; so likewise our intellect knows and names God according to each kind of procession; but nevertheless these names are not imposed to signify the procession themselves, as if when we say “God lives,” the sense were, “life proceeds from Him”; but to signify the principle itself of things, in so far as life pre-exists in Him, although it pre-exists in Him in a more eminent way than can be understood or signified.

Reply to Objection 3. We cannot know the essence of God in this life, as He really is in Himself; but we know Him accordingly as He is represented in the perfections of creatures; and thus the names imposed by us signify Him in that manner only.”

Thomas couldn’t be any clearer – he does not accept the doctrine that you are imposing on him. Again, it’s all a system. It doesn’t posit something in it’s theology that is out of accord with it’s epistemology. Thomas leaves no room for doubt – the creaturely names are predicated of the essence of God, but not exhaustively so. But the fact that it’s not exhaustive doesn’t save it from the root contention from out side – that it’s blasphemous because God says about 1,000 times in the Bible that what He is is NOT like creatures. I am referring here to the 1,000 blasts against idolatry. St. Paul said:

“…in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ 29 Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising.” (Acts 17)

God’s essence is nothing like creatures and it’s utter folly to say so. This is the worst part of Thomism because it’s utterly idolatrous. Worse than confusions about energies and hypostatic properties. This is the entire foundation of the Thomistic scheme – the analogia entis – as applied to God’s essence. Now, as Ive explained numerous times, the East does not reject the analogia totally, just as it’s applied to God’s essence, which no man know and is nothing like creatures. We apply the analogia to the operations – the human judge punishing criminals is an image of God’s justice. The human judge punishing is NOT an image of God’s essence. Nyssa has a lengthy argument with Eunomius on this very point in Book I of Against Eunomius. Eunomius only differs with Thomas on the extent or degree of the knowledge of the essence. For Thomas, creatures are a pale reflection of the essence; for Eunomius, we can comprehend it in this life. Either way, it’s still blasphemous.

Now, related to this is Thomas’ conception borrowed from Plotinus and Augustine that God does not relate to the world directly (which is impossible, given ADS), but rather that He relates indirectly through the archetypes/universals of creatures that are “in His essence as in a mirror.” This is directly related to the analogia entis, but before we go there, we need to be on the same page with all the above. Then, we’ll move on to the nature/person issue in questions 29 and 39.

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