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St. Thomas Aquinas

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Making the Summa Applicable to Families

Prima Pars

Question 6: On The Goodness of God (4 Articles)

 

Article 1:  Is God Good?

 

Structure of the Argument:

St. Thomas uses the following syllogism:

 

  1. A thing is good insofar as it is desirable.  The more desirable something is, the more good it is. 

  2. All things seek after their own perfection.  Their perfection comes from a certain likeness to the thing from which the thing comes.  An apple tree seeks its own perfection (to produce healthy apples that will produce other apple trees).  For the perfection desired is that participation in the likeness from whence it came.  The perfection of a son is to be a father and his own fatherhood will be a participation in the fatherhood that was begot to him. 

  3. Since God is the First Cause, all things came from Him.  Ergo all things participate in a likeness that comes from God and it is that likeness, that perfection that is desirable and is thus good.

 

Further, all things, “by desiring their own perfection, desire God Himself” since all perfections are a likeness of what is found in the Godhead.

 

Family Take-Home:

 

The key in this article, I believe, for families, is that we all, in

desiring our own perfection are actually desiring God

Himself.  The question is: what does it mean to desire our

perfection? For St. Thomas, one’s perfection is the end they

have been created for.  A tree’s perfection is to produce its

seed to generate offspring.  A tree desires God insofar as it

desires to diffuse itself and the good is always diffusive of

itself.  Man’s end, being rational, is happiness.  When we

desire pleasure, we are desiring to be happy.  And in

desiring our end, our perfection to be happy, we are desiring

God Himself.

 

How does this relate to our children? 

 

When we are tempted with pleasures that are good in themselves, but not good for us (e.g.: lusting after a girl: the girl is good in herself, but not good for us to lust after), we are desiring God.  When the children are desiring sweets, stuff, things that give them pleasure, they can be made aware that this desire to make them happy that is pushing them towards these things is innately a desire for God Himself.  For, as St. Augustine says, “Our hearts are restless Lord until they rest in thee.”

Q. 6: Article 2:  Whether God is the supreme good?

 

Structure of the Argument:

 

The objector states that God can’t be the supreme good because that is adding something to good already.  And if God is good already and simply good, adding something to Him would make Him a compound, a combination of two things (which He is not).  The key here is that God is the supreme good but not in comparison with other good things for He is not in the same genus to be compared with them (He is not in any genus at all actually – He is the author of all genus’s).  Just as we can’t compare the sweetness of a buttertart with the sweetness of a line drawn on paper, we can’t compare the God’s goodness with the goodness of a bottle of red wine. 

 

So how is God supremely good?  St. Thomas gives an apt analogy:

as heat is in the sun more excellently than it is in fire, so is good

more excellently in God than it is in things.  As the sun is the

cause of heat, so God is the cause of goodness.  We can only

compare His goodness to other good things by excess.  He is

supremely good.

 

Family Take-home:

 

Language shapes our world, our own personal world as we see it.

  George Orwell paints this potently in his famous work 1984

where he spends a lot of time explaining the ‘Newspeak’ – the

new language the totalitarian government wants the people to speak.  Their goal is to control the people through limiting their language, their definition of words and in doing so control their ability to think.  Brilliant and scary. 

 

St. Thomas, over and over again is insistent that we define our terms and use language in the correct way.  This article is an example.  When I say God is good and this sausage is good, the word ‘good’ is not being used in an univocal way.  When I say I love God and I love watching hockey, the word ‘love’ is not being used in an univocal way.  ‘Love’ and ‘good’ are being used equivocally, being interpreted in different ways. 

 

As parents, it is important to teach our children the proper use of language.  Correcting the wrong use of words (like the use of the word ‘can’ and ‘may’: a child should say “May I have some bread?” not “Can I have some bread?”), encouraging the child to define what they mean with ambiguous words, and reminding them of the equivocality of words such as ‘good’ and ‘love’.  And in doing so, we develop their ability to communicate and to think.

Q. 6: Article 3:  Whether being essentially good belongs to God alone

 

Structure of the Argument:

 

God alone is essentially good and all things are good by participating in His goodness. 

 

Now all things are good according to the degree that they are perfect.  Here St. Thomas gives us three ways in which one is perfected: 

  1. according to the constitution or make-up of one’s being

  2. in regards to accidents being added to one’s being that are necessary for its perfect operation

  3. in regards to attaining an end or specific goal.

He gives the example of fire.  Fire’s first perfection is in the fact that it exists. 

It’s second perfection is in the accidents of fire such as

light and heat which make fire perfect.   It’s third

perfection is for fire to be where it is.  It’s goal, so to speak,

is to burn the wood that is cooking our food.

 

These three ways of being perfected belong to God (alone)

perfectly.  God is His own existence, He needs no accidents

to perfect help do what needs to be done, and His end is

Himself as He can’t be directed to anything less than

Himself and there is nothing greater than Himself.  He is

the last end of all things.  Therefore, God alone is good in and of His own essence. 

 

Family Take-Home:

 

The first take-home for our children is to realize they live and breathe and move because of God.  Their existence comes from God, their abilities, their talents and so forth.  This is in the primary sense.  In the secondary sense, they participate with God in the development of themselves.  All our goodness is a participation of God in us.  Gratia supponit naturam et perficit eam. “Grace builds on nature and perfects it.” Thus, when we work hard and study for an exam, God’s grace can build on the study we’ve done and bring it to perfection.  It is rare that God would just dump the answers to an exam in your brain if you haven’t taken the time to study – when He does do this, it is for the salvation of others and His glory.

 

The second take-home is St. Thomas’ three ways of perfection.  When we are admonished in Scripture to be perfect like our Heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5:48) and it does us well to know how the Father is perfect.  On our road to holiness in this domestic church of ours, we have been given talents, gifts, opportunities, experiences, relations, personalities, physicalities that all work towards helping us attain holiness.  These accidents build on the perfection of our existence.  Then there is our end – our goal, our vocation, our calling – we perfect our nature through becoming mothers and fathers (naturally or spiritually), we perfect our souls through virtue, we reach our end, through grace, by attaining Heaven.  So, as a father, it is our duty to continually be encouraging, pushing, providing opportunities for our children to reach for perfection. 

 

The example comes to mind of my son’s frequent break-downs whilst doing his math corrections.  Do I give in to his tears and frustration?  Or do I use the opportunity to build perseverance in him? 

Q. 6: Article 4:  Are all things good by divine goodness?

 

Structure of the Argument:

 

The objector would say that every being is good simply because he exists and that existence comes from God, and therefore every being’s goodness is good by God’s goodness.  St. Thomas qualifies this.  He states that all things have their own goodness simply because they have their own being.  They are not a part of God’s being, but have their own, specific being and nature.  And thus are good. 

 

However, we do receive our existence, our being from the Author of goodness and in this way participate in His goodness. 

 

So, formally (formal cause) – all things are good on

their own.  Considering first cause and final cause –

all things are good through participation in the divine

goodness and by being ordered to the divine

goodness.

 

Family Take-Home: 

 

When we tell a child, “You are a good boy,” we truly

mean that the child himself is good.  We are not

saying, “You are a good boy because you come from

my loins and are my son.”  Though this, in a sense is

true, the sense in which we speak to our children is formally – meaning “You in yourself are a good boy.” 

 

My wife and I used to have a debate when one of the children called another child ‘bad’.  Is the child ‘bad’?  Can we say this?  Should we call a child ‘bad’?  The answer is two-fold.  First: your actions define who you are.  If your actions are full of vice and sin, then your actions are bad and you are bad. 

Secondly:  each child, person, is precious simply because they are, because they exist.  In this way, no child is ‘bad’. 

 

Knowing this distinction, helps us when we discipline and to use the correct language with the children.