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The Esoteric God of Thomas Aquinas

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In the Christian tradition, Thomas Aquinas writes at length about the simplicity of God. He states that “we cannot know what God is, but only what he is not.”[1] Thomas makes clear that God is not and never can be a “thing.” Thus, all things must be eliminated. God stands alone, unsupported, in pure simplicity (simplicitas). Only from the firm basis of God’s simplicity and ineffability can subsequent attributes be discussed. He uses seven arguments to establish the ultimate nature of God as simplicity. Three will be summarized below, pertaining to the body, form and matter, and the problems presented by composite things.

Thomas argues that God cannot be a body in three ways:

First, a body cannot change something without itself being changed; God cannot be changed, thus God is not a body.

Second, in bodies there is a potential for further division; God cannot be divided, hence God is not a body.

Third, no body can be the most excellent of things. God, as the most excellent, is not a body.

In terms of form and matter, Thomas again presents three arguments. Form and matter have potential for change; God does not change. Form and matter may participate in degrees of goodness; God precedes goodness. Matter arises from causes; God is the first cause and thus does not require matter.[2] Hence, God does not in any way depend upon form or matter.

The last argument regarding the simplicity of God that we will consider here entails a discussion of composite things. Thomas poses the question, “is there any way in which God is composite or is [God] altogether simple?”[3] Two counter-arguments are presented. The first is that the things which derive from God are not simple, therefore God cannot be simple. The second is that compound things are more perfect than simple things, therefore God, as highest perfection, must be highly complex. To defeat these arguments, Aquinas, having noted that St. Augustine observed that God is the most truly simple thing there is, asserts “everything composite is subsequent to its components and dependent on them, whilst God, as we have seen, is the first of all beings… Everything composite is caused, for essentially diverse elements will not combine unless made to do so by a cause. God, however, is not caused… but is the first cause.”[4]

– Christopher Key Chapple,

Taken from Aparigraha Vishvakosh, Publ. Prakrit Bharati Academy, Jaipur

  1. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, translated by Thomas Gilby (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964), Volume II, p. 19. [<<]
  2. Ibid., p. 25. [<<]
  3. Ibid., p. 41 [<<]
  4. Ibid., p. 43. [<<]