SCG 3.20

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FROM what has been said it is clear that the last end of all things is to become like God. Now, that which has properly the aspect of an end, is the good.[1] Therefore, properly speaking, things tend to become like to God forasmuch as He is good.

Now, creatures do not acquire goodness in the way in which it is in God: although each thing imitates the divine goodness, according to its mode. For the divine goodness is simple, being, as it were, all in one. Because the divine being contains the whole fulness of perfection, as we proved in the First Book.[2] Wherefore, since a thing is good so far as it is perfect, God's being is His perfect goodness: for in God, to be, to live, to be wise, to be happy, and whatever else is seen to pertain to perfection and goodness, are one and the same in God, as though the sum total of His goodness were God's very being. Again, God's being is the substance of the existing God.[3] But this cannot be so in other things. For it was proved in the Second Book,[4] that no created substance is its own being. Wherefore, if a thing is good so far as it is: and nothing is its own being: none is its own goodness, but each one is good by having a share of good, even as by having a share of being it is a being.

Also. All creatures are not placed on the same level of goodness. For in some the substance is both form and actuality: such, to wit, as are competent, by the mere fact that they exist, to be actually and to be good. Whereas in others, the substance is composed of matter and form: and such are competent to be actually and to be good, but by some part of their being, namely their form. Accordingly God's substance is His goodness: whereas a simple substance participates goodness, by the very fact that it exists: and a composite substance, by some part of itself.

In this third degree of substances, diversity is to be found again in respect of being. For in some composed of matter and form, the form fills the entire potentiality of matter: so that the matter retains no potentiality to another form: and consequently neither is there in any other matter a potentiality to this same form. Such are the heavenly bodies, which consist of their entire matter.--In others the form does not fill the whole potentiality of matter: so that the matter retains a potentiality to another form: and in another part of matter there remains potentiality to this form; for instance in the elements and their compounds. Since, then, privation is the absence in substance of what can be in substance, it is clear that together with this form which does not fill the whole potentiality of matter, there is associated the privation of a form, which privation cannot be associated with a substance whose form fills the whole potentiality of matter, nor with that which is a form essentially, and much less with that one whose essence is its very being. And seeing that it is clear that there can be no movement where there is no potentiality to something else, for movement is the act of that which is in potentiality;[5] and since evil is the privation of good: it is clear that in this last order of substances, good is changeable, and has an admixture of the opposite evil; which cannot occur in the higher orders of substances. Therefore the substance answering to this last description stands lowest both in being and in goodness.

We find degrees of goodness also among the parts of this substance composed of matter and form. For since matter considered in itself is being in potentiality, and since form is its act; and again since a composite substance derives actual existence from its form: it follows that the form is, in itself, good; the composite substance is good as having its form actually; and the matter is good, as being in potentiality to the form. And although a thing is good in so far as it is a being, it does not follow that matter, which is only being potentially, is only a potential good. For being is predicated absolutely, while good is founded on order, for a thing is said to be good, not merely because it is an end, or possesses the end; but even though it has not attained the end, so long as it is directed to the end, for this very reason it is said to be good. Accordingly matter cannot be called a being absolutely, because it is a potential being, whereby it is shown to have an order towards being: and yet this suffices for it to be called a good absolutely, on account of this very order. This shows that the good, in a sense, extends further than being; for which reason Dionysius says (De Div. Nom. iv.) that the good includes both existing and non-existing things. For even non-existent things, namely matter considered as subject to privation, seek a good, namely to exist. Hence it follows that matter also is good; for nothing but the good seeks the good.

In yet another way the creature's goodness falls short from God's. For, as we have stated, God, in His very being, has supreme perfection of goodness. Whereas the creature has its perfection, not in one thing but in many: because what is united in the highest is manifold in the lowest. Wherefore, in respect of one and the same thing, virtue, wisdom, and operation are predicated of God; but of creatures, in respect of different things: and the further a creature is from the sovereign goodness, the more does the perfection of its goodness require to be manifold. And if it be unable to attain to perfect goodness, it will reach to imperfect goodness in a few respects. Hence it is that although the first and sovereign good is utterly simple, and the substances nearest to it in goodness, approach likewise thereto in simplicity; yet the lowest substances are found to be more simple than some that are higher; elements, for instance, than animals and men, because they are unable to reach the perfection of knowledge and understanding, to which animals and men attain.

From what has been said, it is evident that, although God possesses His perfect and entire goodness in respect of His simple being, creatures nevertheless do not attain to the perfection of their goodness through their being alone, but through many things. Wherefore, although each one is good inasmuch as it exists, it cannot be called good absolutely if it lack other things that are required for its goodness: thus a man who being despoiled of virtue is addicted to vice, is said indeed to be good in a restricted sense, namely as a being, and as a man; but not absolutely; in fact rather should he be called evil. Accordingly it is not the same in every creature, to be and to be good: although each one is good, inasmuch as it exists: whereas in God to be and to be good are simply one and the same.

If, then, each thing tends to a likeness to God's goodness as its end; and a thing is like God's goodness in respect of whatever belongs to its goodness; and the goodness of a thing consists not merely in its being, but in whatever is required for its perfection, as we have proved: it is clear that things are directed to God as their end, not only in respect of their substantial being, but also in respect of such things as are accidental thereto and belong to its perfection, as well as in respect of their proper operation, which also belongs to a thing's perfection.[6]

  1. Ch. xvi.
  2. Ch. xxviii.
  3. Bk. I., ch. xxi.
  4. Ch. xv.
  5. 3 Phys. i.
  6. Cf. ch. xxvii.

Source: St. Thomas Aquinas, The Summa Contra Gentiles, trans. by The English Dominican Fathers from the latest Leonine Edition, Benzinger Brothers: New York, 1924.

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