Today’s Aquinas: There’s Nothing Accidental about God

ThomasAquinas We’re blogging through St. Thomas Aquinas’ Compendium Theologiae, sometimes called his Shorter Summa. Find the previous posts here.

Thomas is always careful to dot all of his I’s and cross all of his T’s, and that’s what we have going on in Chapter 23 of Compendium Theologiae: Absence of Accidents in God.

In the previous two chapters, Thomas has shown that God contains all perfections found in creatures without losing His metaphysical simplicity. Covering all of his bases, Thomas now shows that God has no transient characteristics, that is, no accidents:

It is also clear that there can be no accident in God. If all perfections are one in Him, and if existence, power, action, and all such attributes pertain to perfection, they are necessarily all identical with His essence. Therefore none of these perfections is an accident in God.

God being one, simple, all of these perfections must be part of His essence, and being essential and ever present cannot be “accidents”, for an accident is something inessential and transient, like the redness of an apple. An apple can change in all sorts of ways while remaining an apple; the things that can change are its accidents.

Furthermore, a being to whose perfection something can be added, cannot be infinite in perfection. But if a being has some perfection that is an accident, a perfection can be added to its essence, since every accident is super-added to essence. Hence infinite perfection will not be found in its essence. But, as we have shown, God is of infinite perfection according to essence. Consequently there can be in Him no accidental perfection; whatever is in Him, is His substance.

If an accident could be added to God, that would imply that God is lacking something on His own; but we know He is not.

The same truth can be easily inferred from God’s supreme simplicity, and from the fact that He is pure act and is the first among beings. For some sort of composition obtains between an accident and its subject. Likewise, that which is a subject of this kind cannot be pure act, since an accident is a certain, form or act of the subject. Similarly, what is per se always precedes what is per accidens. From all this we can infer, in keeping with the truths established above, that nothing can be predicated of God as an accident.

There’s really nothing surprising here, so we’ll move right along.

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Photo credit: Public Domain; source Wikimedia Commons.

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