Friday, September 3, 2010

Reading the Summa contra gentiles...


[1] From what has been laid down we can infer that God is His essence, quiddity, or nature [haberi potest quod Deus est sua essentia, quidditas seu natura].

[2] There must be some composition in every being that is not its essence or quiddity [In omni enim eo quod non est sua essentia sive quidditas, oportet aliquam esse compositionem]. Since, indeed, each thing possesses its own essence, if there were nothing in a thing outside its essence all that the thing is would be its essence; which would mean that the thing is its essence. But, if some thing were not its essence, there should be something in it outside its essence. Thus, there must be composition in it. Hence it is that the essence in composite things is signified as a part, for example, humanity in man. Now, it has been shown that there is no composition in God. God is, therefore, His essence [Si igitur aliquid non esset sua essentia, oportet aliquid in eo esse praeter eius essentiam. Et sic oportet in eo esse compositionem. Unde etiam essentia in compositis significatur per modum partis, ut humanitas in homine. Ostensum est autem in Deo nullam esse compositionem. Deus igitur est sua essentia].

St Thomas had shown in chapter 18 that there is no composition in God. His chief lines of argument for this conclusion are that 1) while any composite being is divisible by act and potency, in God there is no potency; 2) every composite being is potentially dissoluble––i.e. it can not-be––but God, the necessary being, cannot not-be; 3) composite beings require an efficient cause for their unity, but God is the first cause of all things, not subject to efficient causation by anything else; and 4) God's primacy of being makes him noblest in simplicity and unity, unlike all composite beings.

As for point 1), Thomas had shown in chapter 16 that there is no passive potency in God. His reasons for this conclusion are that, because God is eternal, as he had shown in chapter 15, He is ipso facto devoid of potency. Thomas had demonstrated God's eternity by deriving it from God's immutability as First Mover, a position he had defended at length in chapter 13 by way of the argument from motion.

I point these links out not only to remind myself and the reader of "how we got here," but also as a reminder that it's very difficult, and very risky, to take anything St Thomas says in isolation, out of context. With every chapter, the edifice gets more and more elaborate, yet it all remains 'simple' in a mind like that of St Thomas, since he always has before him his first principles. It's no shame to have to go back and read those previous chapters just to grasp the logic of Thomas' logic in, e.g., this chapter. Indeed, it may be the only proper way to really understand the Summa contra gentiles. The SCG is like a complex movie with what they call "high repeat-viewing value."

[3] Moreover, only that which does not enter the definition of a thing seems to be outside its essence or quiddity; for the definition signifies what a thing is. But it is only the accidents of a thing that do not fall in the definition; and therefore only the accidents in any thing are outside its essence. But, as will be shown [in chapter 23], in God there are no accidents [Solum illud videtur esse praeter essentiam vel quidditatem rei quod non intrat definitionem ipsius: definitio enim significat quid est res. Sola autem accidentia rei sunt quae in definitione non cadunt. Sola igitur accidentia sunt in re aliqua praeter essentiam eius. In Deo autem non sunt aliqua accidentia, ut ostendetur]. There is, therefore, nothing in God outside His essence; and hence He is His essence.

[4] Furthermore, forms that are not predicated of subsisting things, whether these be considered universally or each is taken singly, are forms that do not subsist through themselves as singulars individuated in themselves. We do not say that Socrates, or man, or animal is whiteness, because whiteness does not subsist as a singular through itself but is individuated through its subsisting subjects. In the same way, also, natural forms do not subsist as singulars through themselves but are individuated in their proper matters [quia albedo non est per se singulariter subsistens, sed individuatur per subiectum subsistens. Similiter etiam formae naturales non subsistunt per se singulariter, sed individuantur in propriis materiis]. … The very essences or quiddities of genera and species are individuated through the designated matter of this or that individual, even though the quiddity of the genus or the species should include common form and matter. That is why we do not say that Socrates or man is humanity. But the divine essence exists through itself as a singular existent and individuated through itself; for, as we have shown, it is not in any matter [Ipsae etiam essentiae vel quidditates generum vel specierum individuantur per materiam signatam huius vel illius individui, licet etiam quidditas generis vel speciei formam includat et materiam in communi: unde non dicitur quod Socrates, vel homo, sit humanitas. Sed divina essentia est per se singulariter existens et in seipsa individuata: cum non sit in aliqua materia, ut ostensum est]. The divine essence is predicated of God, therefore, so that we may say: God is His essence.

Thomas had shown in chapter 17 that God is not in any matter, the chief reason being that he had shown, in chapter 16, that there is no potency in God, whereas all material things are in potency to form.

[5] Again, the essence of a thing is either the thing itself or is related to the thing in some way as its cause [Essentia rei vel est res ipsa vel se habet ad ipsam aliquo modo ut causa]; for a thing derives its species through its essence. But nothing can in any way be the cause of God, since, as we have shown, He is the first being. God is, therefore, His essence.

[6] Then, too, what is not its essence is related to its essence, according to some part of itself, as potency to act [Quod non est sua essentia, se habet secundum aliquid sui ad ipsam ut potentia ad actum]. That is why the essence is signified in the manner of a form, for example, humanity. But, as was shown above, there is no potentiality in God. He must, therefore, be His essence [Sed in Deo nulla est potentialitas, ut supra ostensum est. Oportet igitur quod ipse sit sua essentia].

I think Thomas here means that any being not identical with its essence will possess its essence only potentially. For example, while Socrates is essentially human, humanness is not essentially Socratic. Socrates is not identical with the essence of humanity (humanitas) and Socrates only has humanitas by dint of his essential form, humanitas, being individuated in Socrates' proper matter. God, by contrast, is identical with His essence, since there is no form of divinitas 'outside of' or 'apart from' its singular actuality in God. Socrates is an individual member of a specific form ("rational animal"), and, moreover, of a genus ("animal"). By contrast, God is not an individual member of a larger species or genus of any kind (as Thomas will argue in chapter 25). As Thomas had said in part [4] above, "the divine essence exists through itself as a singular existent and individuated through itself".

-- SCG, I, xxi


Tap said...

You prefer reading it in Latin?

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

As a matter of fact, Tap, I do, but unfortunately my Latin is not yet good enough for me to do so. Instead, I post SCG chapter by chapter here and then insert the original Latin -- from here: -- for what I believe are key points in the text. As you may have noticed, I also sometimes gloss the text with my own summary, questions, additions, etc. I had to restrain myself from buying a single-volume Latin edition of SCG recently, but gosh it would be nice to have a benefactor treat me to it heheh.