Book 1, Chapter 26: THAT GOD IS NOT THE FORMAL BEING OF ALL THINGS [Quod Deus non est esse formale omnium]
The topic in today's caput addresses an error still very "live" in our times, namely, the popular error of confusing the fact that "all things are in God" with the notion that "God is in all things." "If God pervades the universe," the reasoning goes, "then the universe must be God; hence, I can and should worship the universe, or any thing in it." This is a popular form of natural pantheism. Let us read why it is flawed.
 We are now able to refute the error of certain persons who said that God is nothing other than the formal being of each thing.
 This being [i.e. the formal being of any thing] is divided into the being of substance and the being of accident. Now, we have proved that the divine being is neither the being of substance nor that of accident. God, therefore, cannot be that being by which each thing formally is.
 Furthermore, things are not distinguished from one another in having being, for in this they agree [Res ad invicem non distinguuntur secundum quod habent esse: quia in hoc omnia conveniunt]. If, then, things differ from one another, either their being must be specified through certain added differences, so that diverse things have a diverse being according to their species, or things must differ in that the being itself is appropriate to natures that are diverse in species. The first of these alternatives is impossible, since, as we have said, no addition can be made to a being in the manner in which a difference is added to a genus. It remains, then, that things differ because they have diverse natures, to which being accrues in a diverse way [Relinquitur ergo quod res propter hoc differant quod habent diversas naturas, quibus acquiritur esse diversimode]. Now, the divine being does not accrue to a nature that is other than it; it is the nature itself, as we have said [Esse autem divinum non advenit alii naturae, sed est ipsa natura, ut ostensum est]. If, therefore, the divine being were the formal being of all things, all things would have to be absolutely one.
 Then, too, a principle is naturally prior to that whose principle it is [Principium naturaliter prius est eo cuius est principium]. ... [T]he form is said to be a principle of being, and so is the agent, that makes things to be in act. If, therefore, the divine being is the being of each thing, it will follow that God, Who is His own being, has some cause [forma enim dicitur esse principium essendi; et similiter agens, quod facit aliqua esse actu. Si igitur esse divinum sit esse uniuscuiusque rei, sequetur quod Deus, qui est suum esse, habeat aliquam causam…]. ...
 Moreover, that which is common to many is not outside the many except by the reason alone. Thus, animal is not something outside Socrates and Plato and the other animals except in the intellect that apprehends the form of animal stripped of all its individuating and specifying characteristics [Quod est commune multis, non est aliquid praeter multa nisi sola ratione: sicut animal non est aliud praeter Socratem et Platonem et alia animalia nisi intellectu, qui apprehendit formam animalis expoliatam ab omnibus individuantibus et specificantibus]. ... Much less, then, is common being itself something outside all existing things, save only for being in the intellect. Hence, if God is common being, the only thing that will exist is that which exists solely in the intellect. But we showed above that God is something not only in the intellect but also in reality [Multo igitur minus et ipsum esse commune est aliquid praeter omnes res existentes nisi in intellectu solum. Si igitur Deus sit esse commune, Deus non erit aliqua res nisi quae sit in intellectu tantum. Ostensum autem est supra Deum esse aliquid non solum in intellectu, sed in rerum natura]. Therefore, God is not the common being of all things. ...
 Sacred Teaching as well casts aside this error in confessing that God is “high and elevated,” according to Isaiah (6:1), and that He is “over all,” according to Romans (9:5). For, if He is the being of all things, He is part of all things, but not over them [Si enim esse omnium, tunc est aliquid omnium, non autem super omnia].
 So, too, those who committed this error are condemned by the same judgment as are the idolaters who “gave the incommunicable name,” that is, of God, “to wood and stones,” as it is written (Wis. 14:21). If, indeed, God is the being of all things, there will be no more reason to say truly that a stone is a being than to say that a stone is God [Si enim Deus est esse omnium, non magis dicetur vere lapis est ens, quam lapis est Deus].
 Four factors seem to have contributed to the rise of this error [Huic autem errori quatuor sunt quae videntur praestitisse fomentum]. The first is the warped interpretation [intellectus perversus] of certain authoritative texts. There is in Dionysius this remark [De caelisti hierarchia IV, 1]: “The being of all things is the super-essential divinity. ” ["esse omnium est superessentialis divinitas"] From this remark they wished to infer that God is the formal being of all things, without considering that this interpretation could not square with the words themselves [hunc intellectum ipsis verbis consonum esse non posse]. ... [W]hen he said that the divinity is the being of all things, he showed that there was in all things a certain likeness of the divine being, coming from God [Ex hoc vero quod dixit quod divinitas est esse omnium, ostendit quod a Deo in omnibus quaedam divini esse similitudo reperitur]. Elsewhere Dionysius has rather openly set aside this warped interpretation: “God neither touches nor is in any way mingled with other things, as a point touches a line or the figure of a seal touches wax” [Hunc etiam eorum perversum intellectum … apertius excludensdixit…, "quod ipsius Dei neque tactus neque aliqua commixtio est ad res alias, sicut est puncti ad lineam vel figurae sigilli ad ceram"] [De divinis nominibus II, 5].
 The second cause leading them to this error is a failure of reason [rationis defectus]. ... They ignored the fact that what is common or universal cannot exist without addition, but is considered without addition [non considerantes quod id quod commune est vel universale sine additione esse non potest, sed sine additione consideratur]. For animal cannot be without the difference rational or the difference irrational, although it is considered without these differences. ... [A]lthough a universal may be considered without addition, it is not without the receptibility of addition; for, if no difference could be added to animal, it would not be a genus. The same is true of all other names [Licet etiam cogitetur universale absque additione, non tamen absque receptibilitate additionis: nam si animali nulla differentia addi posset, genus non esset; et similiter est de omnibus aliis nominibus]. But the divine being is without addition not only in thought but also in reality; and not only without addition but also without the receptibility of addition. From the fact, then, that it neither receives nor can receive addition we can rather conclude that God is not common being but proper being; for His being is distinguished from all the rest by the fact that nothing can be added to it [Unde ex hoc ipso quod additionem, non recipit nec recipere potest, magis concludi potest quod Deus non sit esse commune, sed proprium: etiam ex hoc ipso suum esse ab omnibus aliis distinguitur quod nihil ei addi potest]. ...
 The third factor that led them into this error concerns the divine simplicity. God is at the peak of simplicity [Deus in fine simplicitatis est]. They therefore thought that the last point of resolution in our way of seeing things is God, as being absolutely simple. ... [T]hey did not observe that what is most simple in our understanding of things is not so much a complete thing as a part of a thing. But, simplicity is predicated of God as of some perfect subsisting thing [in hoc etiam eorum defecit ratio, dum non attenderunt id quod in nobis simplicissimum invenitur, non tam rem completam, quam rei aliquid esse. Deo autem simplicitas attribuitur sicut rei alicui perfectae subsistenti].
 A fourth factor that could have led them to their error is the mode of expression we use when we say that God is in all things. By this we do not mean that God is in things as a part of a thing, but as the cause of a thing that is never lacking to its effect [non intelligentes quod non sic est in rebus quasi aliquid rei, sed sicut rei causa quae nullo modo suo effectui deest]. For we do not say that a form is in matter as a sailor is in a ship [but rather as Tchaikovsky is in the 1812 Overture].