Summary Against Modern Thought: God Is The Cause Of All Being

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.

Note that the Chapter numbering is correct; we didn’t actually skip anything; I mislabeled two Chapters as one last week.

Chapter 15 That God is to all things the cause of being (alternate translation)

[1] Now, since we have proved that God is the source of being to some things, we must further show that everything besides Himself is from Him.

[2] For whatever belongs to a thing otherwise than as such, belongs to it through some cause, as white to a man: because that which has no cause is something first and immediate, wherefore it must needs belong to the thing essentially and as such. Now it is impossible for any one thing to belong to two and to both of them as such. For that which is said of a thing as such, does not go beyond that thing: for instance to have three angles equal to two right angles does not go beyond a triangle.

Accordingly if something belongs to two things, it will not belong to both as such: wherefore it is impossible for any one thing to be predicated of two so as to be said of neither by reason of a cause, but it is necessary that either the one be the cause of the other,–for instance fire is the cause of heat in a mixed body, and yet each is called hot;–or else some third thing must be cause of both, for instance fire is the cause of two candles giving light.

Now being is said of everything that is. Wherefore it is impossible that there be two things neither of which has a cause of its being, but either both the things in question must have their being through a cause, or else the one must be the cause of being to the other. Hence everything that, in any way whatever, is, must needs be from that to which nothing is a cause of being. Now we have proved above that God is this being to which nothing is a cause of its being. Therefore from Him is everything that, in any way whatever, is. If however it be said that being is not a univocal predicate, the above conclusion follows none the less. For it is not said of many equivocally, but analogically: and thus it is necessary to be brought back to one thing.

Notes Understand this is metaphysics and not physics which is under discussion. A thing having being is not given being by “laws of nature.” We can plant an acorn, which is a nascent oak tree, and which grows according to certain formula we might discover. But its the whole package, including the “laws” and “formula”, are what exists as being-an-oak-tree. It is the totality of the thing which has being. And that being has to have been caused by something. It is that totality which can only have come from some First unchanging cause, which we earlier proved was God.

Science comes after being. Science takes being for granted, and seeks to discover the “formula” to apply to being. But science can never explain being; it cannot even explain the laws and rules which science itself uses. Physics must always be built on top of metaphysics, for without metaphysics there is no physics.

[3] Moreover. That which belongs to a thing by its nature, and not by some other cause, cannot be diminished and deficient therein. For if something essential be subtracted from or added to a nature, there will be at once another nature: even as it happens in numbers, where the addition or subtraction of unity changes the species. And if the nature or quiddity of a thing remain entire, although something is found to be diminished, it is clear that this does not depend simply on that nature, but on something else, through the absence of which it is diminished.

Wherefore that which belongs to one thing less than to others, belongs to it not through its nature alone, but through some other cause. Consequently that thing will be the cause of all in a certain genus, to which thing the predication of that genus belongs above all; hence that which is most hot is seen to be the cause of heat in all things hot, and that which is most light is the cause of all things that have light. Now God is being above all, as we have proved in the First Book. Therefore He is the cause of all of which being is predicated.

Notes Review: A hat is not essential to be a man; a hat is an “accident” and not part of his essential nature. But a man with a head to place the hat on is not a man, but a corpse. Heads are essential and hats are accidents.

[4] Further. The order of causes must needs correspond to the order of effects, since effects are proportionate to their causes. Wherefore, as proper effects are reduced to their proper causes, so that which is common in proper effects must needs be reduced to some common cause: even so, above the particular causes of the generation of this or that thing, is the sun the universal cause of generation; and the king is the universal cause of government in his kingdom, above the wardens of the kingdom and of each city. Now being is common to all. Therefore above all causes there must be a cause to which it belongs to give being. But God is the first cause, as shown above. Therefore it follows that all things that are, are from God.

[5] Again. That which is said to be essentially so and so is the cause of all that are so by participation: thus fire is the cause of all things ignited as such. Now God is being by His essence, because He is being itself: whereas everything else is being by participation: for there can be but one being that is its own being, as was proved in the First Book. Therefore God is the cause of being to all other things.

Notes Don’t forget that when say anything has being, we are speaking of that thing in its totality, including the “forces” which hold the thing together, to use more physical language.

[6] Further. Everything that is possible to be and not to be has a cause: because considered in itself it is indifferent to either, so that there must needs be something else that determines it to one. Wherefore, since we cannot proceed to infinity, there must needs be some necessary thing that is the cause of all things that it is possible to be and not to be. Now there is a necessary thing that has a cause of its necessity: and here again we cannot proceed to infinity, so that we must come to something that is of itself necessary to be. And this can be but one, as we showed in the First Book: and this is God. Therefore everything other than Him must be reduced to Him as the cause of its being.

Notes We’re back to Chapter 13 in Book One. A can be the cause of B, and B of C, and so forth, but this has to end, or rather start, somewhere, because something is needed to explain the cause of being in A.

[7] Moreover. God is the maker of a thing, inasmuch as He is in act, as we have proved above. Now by His actuality and perfection He contains all the perfections of things, as we have shown in the First Book; and thus He is virtually all things. Therefore He is the maker of all. But this would not be if something else were of a nature to be otherwise than from Him: for nothing is of a nature to be from another, and not to be from another, since if it be of a nature not to be from another, it is of itself necessary to be, and thus can never be from another. Therefore nothing can be except from God.

[8] Again. The imperfect originate from the perfect, as seed from an animal. Now God is the most perfect being and the sovereign good, as was shown in the First Book. Therefore He is to all things the cause of being, especially since it was proved that there can be but one such thing…

[10] This sets aside the error of the ancient physicists who asserted that certain bodies had no cause of their being: likewise of some who say that God is not the cause of the substance of heaven, but only of its movement.

Notes In mixed-modern-medieval parlance, a potential cannot be actualized without something being in act. Something that does not have being but could is only in potential to being; therefore to be requires an actuality. Now since “chance” or “randomness” cannot be causes since they are not actual, certain effects at the very small, in the realm of quantum mechanics, cannot be said to have no cause of their being. An actuality must still exist to actualize their potential. Now we may not know what this actuality is, but our ignorance does not prove non-existence.


  1. Sander van der Wal

    An electron-positron pair is potentially a photon, and a photon of suffficient energy is potentially such a par too. So what object is then being?

    Things get worse with virtual particles. A bit of empty space is potentially a bit of space with an electron-positron pair, and then it is again an empty bit of space. But only the pair has being in this way of thinking.

  2. Joy

    What is outside of the bit of empty space you speak of?

  3. Ye Olde Statistician

    Things get worse with virtual particles.

    “Virtual” here being a sort of synonym for “potential.”

  4. Briggs, your enemies are still at work, I do think:
    “But a man with a head to place the hat on is not a man, but a corpse. Heads are essential and hats are accidents.”
    Do you not mean “a man WITHOUT a head…”?
    Sander, you’re taking the scientific description to be prescriptive, i.e. reflecting an actual reality. That may or may not be the case.

  5. “Summary for the layman: Goddidit”
    Well, yes, but how He does it is interesting too.

  6. Ye Olde Statistician

    Summary for the layman: Goddidit

    Summaries for laymen are often boiled down to simple rules. Think of any science course for non-scientists boiled down to formulas.

  7. Sander van der Wal

    Virtual is not quite the same as potential. Virtual particles do not turn into real ones, it is more like an empty bit of space is potentially a virtual particle.

    Anyway, have virtual particles Being?

  8. andyd

    Sander, ‘virtual particles’ were introduced merely as a book-keeping mechanism. So no, they don’t have Being.

  9. Mactoul

    Electrons, protons, photons, not to speak of virtual particles are entities postulated in physics to explain phenomena involving things. The things themselves exist in commonsensical corporeal space. The entities that physics speaks of exist in a different theoretical space.

    The arguments given by ancient philosophers all apply to objects in corporeal space and have no necessary bearing to entities that physics postulates.

    This is how certain quantum paradoxes may be resolved. For instance Schrodinger’s cat is NECESSARILY alive or dead. As a corporeal object, it can not exist as a quantum superposition. Only entities postulated in quantum mechanics can be said to exist in quantum states.

  10. Sander van der Wal

    Virtual partcles are responsible for the Casimir effect. Ad the edge of a black hole they might become real as Hawkims radiation. A black hole therefore bestows Being on non-Being objects. The black hole itself becomes a tiny bit less Being because of that, as at some point it will evaporate and cease to exist.

  11. Mactoul

    Fr Jaki has written quite a lot on how questionable metaphysical views of the founders of quantum mechanics (QM) got written into the dominant Copenhagen interpretation of QM. That ultimately resulted in the confusion in modern physics over being/non-being.

    “The science of QM states only the impossiblity of perfect accuracy in measurements. The philosophy of QM states ultimately the impossiblity distinguishing between material and non-material and even between being and non-being”

  12. Mactoul

    Can an atheist avoid Aquina’s conclusion by denying existence of true contigency and adopting metaphysical fatalism?

    Things that begin to exist demand cause. But atoms (philosophically speaking) or fundamental particles are eternal and thus require no cause. All other things are merely heaps of atoms or fundamental particles.
    Thus, with merelogical nihilism and fatalism, one denies contingency and requiement of a transcendent cause.

  13. “Virtual partcles are responsible for the Casimir effect. Ad the edge of a black hole they might become real as Hawkims radiation. A black hole therefore bestows Being on non-Being objects.”

    Conceptual entities used brazenly are often the cause of real conceptual confusion.

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