Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters. We’re going through the Summa Theologica and we’re discussing the doctrine of God. The Summa Theologica is the masterpiece of Thomas Aquinas and can be read at newadvent.org. Tonight, we’re going to be starting the doctrine of God’s perfection. Before that, I have prayer requests. First, I ask for prayers for my Christlikeness. Today has been a really difficult day in that area, but maybe it could be that the days you are most aware of your fallenness are the days that you are actually improving the most. Second, I ask for prayers for my financial situation. Third, I ask for prayers in a third related are of my life. For now, let’s get to the topic. Is God perfect?
Some readers are saying “Well of course God is perfect.” This was the beauty of the medievals however. They wanted to prove everything and make sure of their arguments. In fact, as you read the Summa, you notice that Aquinas brings forward the strongest arguments that he knows of against the position that he holds. I sometimes speculate that maybe he had his students go out and find arguments for a “Can you stump the teacher?” kind of game.
So what arguments were brought against God being perfect? Well the first is that something perfect is completely made. God however is not made, therefore God is not perfect.
The second is that God is the first beginning of things, but the beginning of things is not perfect, just as the seed of a tree is not perfect, therefore God is not perfect.
Third, God’s essence has been shown to be being itself, but that would seem to be the most imperfect. After all, it is received by everything and receptive of all modification.
Let’s be clear in this that we’re not talking about moral perfection. Now I do believe that in a sense, God does possess moral perfection, though I don’t think moral can apply to God like it can to us, as if God does what he ought to do because there’s a moral law outside of him that he has to obey. This is talking about ontological perfection. God is complete in his being lacking nothing appropriate to his existence.
Aquinas tells us that Aristotle said the ancients did not ascribe perfection to the first principle, because they saw everything as material and a material being could not be the perfect one. However, God is not material. That which is material is always in a state of potentiality as matter can always change. God, however, as an agent is always in a state of actuality. God being the first and the source of all actuality must be most perfect then.
What of the objections? For the first, Aquinas says that something is called perfect when it is brought into the actuality it ought to have. Thus, whatever does not lack in its mode of being is perfect. It doesn’t matter whether the thing has been made or not.
For the second, the material being cannot be first as has been said so that must be after something else that is actual. For this, Aquinas could easily return to his first way and demonstrate God from there and since he is immaterial and being, he is perfect.
The final one is the one I think the most difficult but Aquinas answers it well. Being is the actuality of all things, but the problem is we are comparing the giver to the receiver. It’s the other way around. They receive being in their limitation. They cannot be as actual as God is because they are limited by their forms and/or matter.
Tomorrow, we shall ask if the perfection of all things is in God.