Summary Against Modern Thought: Moral Virtues & God

This may be proved in three ways. The first...
This may be proved in three ways. The first…
See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

Thomas doesn’t make a point of it, but starting in paragraph [9] is a large hint why we are social creatures; why we need each other. This is long, but it’s fairly easy, and well worth spending the time to read all of it.

Chapter 93 That in God there are the moral virtues which are about actions. (alternate translation)

[1] Now there are some virtues which regulate man’s active life, and are concerned not with passions but with actions, such as truth, justice, liberality, magnificence, prudence, and art.

[2] Now since virtue derives its species from its object or matter, while the actions that are the matter or object of these virtues are not inconsistent with the divine perfection; neither is there in these virtues according to their proper species, any thing for which they should be excluded from the divine perfection.

Notes Hence cleanliness is next to Godliness. (Sorry.)

[3] Again. These virtues are perfections of the will and intellect, which are principles of operation without passion. Now in God there are will and intellect wherein there is no lack of perfection. Therefore these virtues cannot be lacking in God.

Notes Thinking about passions (animal instincts) gives rise to the quip, “Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.” (Sorry again.)

[4] Moreover. The proper reason about all things that take their being from God exists in the divine intellect, as we have proved above. Now the reason in the craftsman’s mind about the thing to be made, is art: wherefore the Philosopher says (6 Ethic.) that art is right reason about things to be made. Therefore art is properly in God: and for this reason it is said (Wis. vii. 21): Wisdom, the Artificer of all things, taught me.

Notes This passages use art in a sense too old to be recognized. Aquinas did not mean by it thing created by a celebrity which can be bought and sold on speculation.

[5] Again. God’s will, in things other than Himself, is determined to one particular thing by His knowledge, as was shown above. Now knowledge, directing the will to operation, is prudence, since prudence, according to the Philosopher (6 Ethic.) is right reason about things to be done. Therefore prudence is in God: and this is what is said (Job xxvi.)[7]: With Him is prudence and strength.

Notes It is not then an accident the (feminine) name Prudence is dying out. (Enough with the jokes!)

[6] Again. It was shown above that through willing a particular thing, God wills whatever is required for that thing. Now that which is requisite for a perfection of a thing is due to it. Therefore in God there is justice, which consists in rendering to each one what is his. Wherefore it is said in the psalm: The Lord is just and hath loved justice.

Notes A neat definition of justice, what, what?

[7] Moreover. As shown above, the last end, for the sake of which God wills all things, nowise depends on the things directed to the end, neither as to its being nor as to any perfection. Wherefore He wills to communicate His goodness to a thing not that He may gain thereby, but because the very act of communicating is befitting Him as the source of goodness. Now to give not for a gain expected from the giving, but through goodness and becomingness, is an act of liberality, as the Philosopher teaches (4 Ethic.). Therefore God is most liberal, and as Avicenna says, He alone can properly be called liberal, since every other agent, except God, gains by his action some good which is the end in view. Scripture declares this His liberality when it says in the psalm: When Thou openest Thy hand they shall all be filled with good; and (James i. 5): Who giveth to all men abundantly and upbraideth not.

Notes Where by liberal he means loving.

[8] Again. All that receive being from God must needs bear His likeness, in as much as they are, and are good, and have their proper types in the divine intellect, as we have shown above. Now it belongs to the virtue of truth according to the Philosopher (4 Ethic.) that a man by his words and deeds show himself such as he is. Therefore in God is the virtue of truth. Hence it is said (Rom. iii. 4): Now God is true, and in the psalm; All Thy ways are truth.

[9] But whatever virtues are directed to certain actions of subjects in reference to superiors, are inapplicable to God: for instance, obedience, religion, and the like which are due to a superior.

[10] Again, the aforesaid virtues cannot be ascribed to God in respect of any of their acts that may be imperfect. Thus prudence as to its act of taking good counsel is not befitting God. For since counsel is an inquiry (6 Ethic.), whereas the divine knowledge is not inquisitive, as was proved above, it cannot become it to take counsel. Wherefore we read (Job xxvi. 3): To whom has Thou given counsel? Perhaps to him that hath no wisdom? and (Isa. xl. 14): With whom hath He consulted, and who hath instructed Him? On the other hand, as regards the act of judging of things counselled and the choice of those approved, nothing hinders prudence being ascribed to God. However, counsel is sometimes ascribed to God, either by reason of a likeness in the point of secrecy, for counsels are taken in secret; wherefore the secrets of the divine wisdom are called counsels metaphorically, for instance Isa. xxv. 1, according to another version: May Thy counsel of old be verified; or in the point of satisfying those who seek counsel of Him, for it belongs to one who understands even without discursion, to instruct inquirers.

Notes Seeking advice isn’t godly, but it is human and seen to be a good, which it is. Since we would be nowhere without true education (like art, I do not use this word in its modern-day sense), which is a good, that we are a social animal is built in to us. Now that’s a commonplace observation, but put in context here, it says God means for us to need each other. And that’s something very different. This is clearer after the next paragraph.

[10] Likewise justice as to its act of commutation cannot be ascribed to God: since He receives naught from any one. Hence we read (Rom. xi. 35): Who hath first given to Him, and recompense shall be made him? and (Job. xli. 2): Who hath given Me before that I should repay him? However, we are said metaphorically to give certain things to God, in as much as God accepts our gifts. Hence it is befitting Him to have not commutative, but only distributive, justice. Wherefore Dionysius says (Div. Nom. viii.) that God is praised for His justice, because He distributes to all according to their merits: as expressed by those words of Matt. xxv. 15: He gave…to everyone according to his proper ability.

Notes And if He gave to everyone according to his proper ability, it means inequality is built right into the system. A book can be written on this.

[11] It must be noted, however, that the actions about which the aforesaid virtues are concerned do not by their nature depend on human affairs, for to judge of what has to be done, and to give or distribute something, belongs not to man alone but to every intelligent being. But so far as they are confined to human concerns, they, to a certain extent, take their species from them, just as a crooked nose makes a species of ape.

Accordingly the aforesaid virtues, so far as they regulate man’s active life, are directed to these actions as confined to human affairs and taking their species from them. In this way they cannot be ascribed to God. But so far as the aforesaid actions are understood in a general sense, they can be adapted even to things divine. For just as man is a dispenser of human things, such as money or honours, so is God the bestower of all the goods of the universe. Hence the aforesaid virtues in God have a more universal range than in man: for as justice in man relates to the state or the household, so God’s justice extends to the whole universe. Wherefore the divine virtues are called exemplar virtues: because things that are limited and particularized are likenesses of absolute beings, as the light of a candle in comparison with the light of the sun. But other virtues which properly are not applicable to God have no exemplar in the divine nature, but only in the divine Wisdom, which contains the proper types of all beings; as is the case with other corporeal things.


  1. Gary

    It is not then an accident the (feminine) name Prudence is dying out.
    Along with Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy.

    And yes, that definition of justice is neat because it goes beyond what is deserved to what makes completeness.

  2. Ye Olde Statistician

    …concerned not with passions but with actions…

    These terms relate to “passive” and “active,” which is why being passive is from the modern view quite an activity.

  3. Michael 2

    “since every other agent, except God, gains by his action some good which is the end in view.”

    It is unclear that God gains nothing. The creation has a purpose. It is an action, a good; it serves a purpose. On accomplishment of that purpose God will have gained something. He already has four beasts at his throne but that’s not sufficient. He wanted something self-willed to also choose Good, for its own worth and sake, and not because that is all they were created to do.

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