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The Wisdom of Aquinas

[In the statement below Aquinas is not saying that the proposition ‘God exists’ is an argument for God’s existence, merely that the statement is a tautology like the statement ‘A bachelor is an unmarried man,’ or ‘A unicorn is a horse with a horn.’]

The proposition, God exists is of itself self-evident as the subject and the predicate are one and the same. God is His own existence.

It is part of the infinite goodness of God that he allows evil to exist, and out of it produces good.

With man, composite things are better than simple things because the perfection of created goodness is not found in one simple thing, but in many things. But the perfection of divine goodness is found in one simple thing: God.

Every being, as being, is good; no being is said to be evil except only so far as it lacks being.

Beauty and goodness are fundamentally identical, for they are based on the same thing; that is why goodness is praised as beauty.

[Many religiously-minded people would say that Aquinas has it backwards, that a thing is desirable insofar as it is good. But Aquinas held that a thing must be defined by its proximate principle and not by its ultimate one. Thus he defines “virtue” not as doing the will of God, but as doing what is consonant with reason and appropriate to the situation. In a somewhat similar way, since we don’t start with a knowledge of God (the ultimate principle of good) we only know what is good through desire—notwithstanding the fact that not everything we desire is necessarily good.]

A thing is good insofar as it is desirable.

When we know God, some likeness of God comes to be in us.

God is said to be incomprehensible not because He cannot be seen, but because He cannot be seen or understood as perfectly as He is capable of being seen. The knowledge of God transcends the powers of the human intellect.

Unhappy the man who has perfection of intellect, yet knoweth not God!

The very nature of evil is the privation of good; therefore evil cannot be known by itself but only in the knowledge of good.

Good is that toward which the appetite tends; and the true is that toward which the intellect tends. However, there is the following difference between appetite and intellect: appetite, or good is in the desirable thing, while intellect, or the true is in the intellect itself.

True and false are opposed to each other, and therefore stand in relation to the same thing. We must therefore seek falsity where we primarily find truth: namely, in the intellect. In things, neither truth nor falsity exists except in relation to the intellect.

Corruption and defects in natural things are contrary to some particular nature although they are in keeping with the universal plan, inasmuch as the defect in one yields to the good in another, or even to the universal good: for the corruption of one is the generation of another, and through this order of things a species is kept in existence. It belongs to God’s providence to permit certain defects in particular things so that the perfect good of the universe may not be impeded. If all evil were prevented, much good would be impossible of achievement. A lion could not survive if there were no animals slain, and there would be no martyrs without tyrannical persecution.

Goodness, which in God is simple and uniform, in creatures is manifold and divided; hence the universe as a whole participates in the divine goodness more perfectly, and represents it better, than any single creature.

The uncreated image, which is perfect, is only one. But no creature perfectly represents the uncreated image, which is divine essence; and therefore if can be represented by many things. The plurality of ideas corresponds in the divine mind to the plurality of things.

Although evil indicates the absence of good, not every absence of good is evil. For when absence of good is taken in the negative sense, it is not evil; otherwise it would follow that evil might imply the absence of good belonging to somebody else. For example, a man might be considered evil because he did not have the swiftness of the deer or the strength of the lion. But absence of good, taken in the privative sense, is an evil; therefore we say that the privation of sight, or blindness, may be termed evil.

There is a cause of every evil, for evil is the absence of good which is natural to and due a thing.

In the creation of the universe, God intended that there be no corruption or defect. But the order of the universe requires that there should be things which sometimes can and do fail. And thus God, by intending the good of the order of the universe, consequently, and as if it were by accident, causes the corruption of things.

Defects in nature are found in a very small proportion of the species. In man alone does evil manifest itself in the majority of the cases, for the good of man as man is not the good of the senses of the body, but rather of the reason. Men, however, follow the senses rather than reason.

The operation of the intellect has its origin in the senses, yet in that which is apprehended by the senses, the intellect knows many things the senses cannot perceive.

The immateriality of a created intelligence is not its intellect, but rather does its power of understanding derive from the immateriality. Therefore, the intellect is not the substance of the soul, but its virtue and power.

The human intellect is the lowest in the order of intellects, and the furthest from perfection; it is in potentiality to things intelligible, and is at first like a clean tablet on which nothing has been written.

The agent intellect is in the soul. Above the intellectual soul of man, we must suppose a superior intellect, from which the soul acquires the power of understanding. The human soul is called intellectual by reason of its participation in divine intellectual power.

Truth and good are mutually inclusive; for truth is good, or it would not be desirable; and good is true or it would not be intelligible.

What is understood and what is desired are in reality the same, but differ in aspect; for a thing is understood as being sensible or intelligible, whereas it is desired as suitable or good.

The knowledge of the singular or individual is prior to knowledge of the universal, just as sensible knowledge precedes intellectual knowledge.

The likeness of a thing is received into the intellect according to the kind of intellect and not according to the kind of thing.

The better the body, the better the intelligence allotted to it.

In God, to be and to be good, are synonymous; but this is not true of creatures, who are good in a restricted sense merely because they exist, but may be evil in an absolute sense if they are lacking in virtue.

In understanding Himself, God understands all other things.

Happiness consists principally in the act of the intellect, and not in an act of the will.

God is immovable, eternal, incorporeal, utterly simple.

Happiness excludes all unhappiness; nobody can at one and the same time be both happy and unhappy.

With our own incorporeal essence we shall comprehend the divine essence.

Man’s happiness consists in seeing God, which is life everlasting. The vision of God can be obtained through the grace of God alone, because that vision surpasses the ability of every creature and cannot be attained except by God’s gift.

The intellectual soul is created on the boundary between eternity and time, because it is last in order among intellects, and yet its substance stands above and apart from corporeal matter.

An evil thing denotes privation, not an absolute one, but one affecting some potentiality.

We call evil anything that is repugnant to right reason; and in this sense every individual act is good or evil.

Prudence is absolutely the chief of all the virtues. Each of the others is chief only of its own genus.

Man’s happiness is twofold. One part is proportioned to human nature, a happiness which can be attained by fulfilling the principles of his nature. The other part is happiness surpassing man’s nature, which can be attained by the power of God alone, by a kind of participation in the Godhead.

The appetite cannot tend toward acts of hope or love except by reason; and it is by faith that reason learns what it hopes and loves. Hence, in the order of generation, faith must precede hope and charity.

But in the order of perfection, charity precedes faith and hope, because both faith and hope are awakened by charity, and take from it their strength as virtues. Thus charity is the mother and root of all virtues, and it is the form of them all.

The good of moral virtue is in its conformity with the rule of reason. Conformity, between excess and deficiency, is the mean. Therefore it is evident that moral virtue is a mean.

The gifts of glory have been given us in hope, and we can know them most certainly through faith. But we can never know that we have grace enough to merit them.

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