CT 17: God Neither the Form of a Body nor a Force in a Body

CT 17: God Neither the Form of a Body nor a Force in a Body November 26, 2014

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

And so we continue the long march through the categories, showing that God isn’t any of the normal things of our experience.  We’ve shown in the past that God isn’t a species predicated of individuals, so He isn’t the essence of an individual being.  We’ve shown that God isn’t a body that has an essence.  And now we see that God isn’t something that pertains to a body in some other way:

God cannot be the form of a body or any kind of force existing in a body. For, since all bodies are found to be mobile, whatever is present in a body must be moved, at least per accidens or concomitantly, if the body itself is moved. The first mover, however, cannot be moved either per se or per accidens, for it must be absolutely immobile, as has been shown. Therefore God cannot be a body or a force in a body.

So remember: a body is a substance that takes up space, a composite of a substantial form, or essence, with matter.  In addition to its substantial form, though, a body can have all sorts of accidental forms.  An apple has the essence of an apple; but it can also be red or yellow or green or a combination.  It can be in motion (as when Sam throws it at Bill Ferny) or at rest.  It can be sour, ripe, or rotten.  In Thomas’ terms, these colors and motions and states are all accidental forms.

Now, when you throw an apple, its green color and its sourness and the momentum you impart to it all travel along with it.  If you think about it, they really can’t do otherwise.  I can imagine a smile without a cat, but an apple that leaves its color behind when throw would be a very odd apple indeed.

And since, as Thomas showed in Chapter 4, God is absolutely immobile, and since every body, being in space, is subject to motion, and since all of a body’s forms move with it, God cannot be such a form.

Thomas also says that God cannot be a force in a body, by which I gather he would mean something like a muscular force, something that’s part of the body itself that causes change.  Because that must also move with the body, and God is immobile.

Thomas continues:

Again, in order to move an object, every mover must have dominion over the thing that is moved. For we observe that motion is more rapid in proportion as the motive force exceeds the resisting force of the mobile object.

“Every mover must have dominion over the thing that is moved.”  This statement is almost more interesting viewed backwards than forwards.  Every mover must have power over, must have the ability to change, must in some sense be superior to the thing that is moved.  The hand must have the strength to throw the ball.  A tree grows of itself, and thereby, according to this maxim, has dominion over itself; at best I can provide or remove the necessary conditions.  And similarly, I have dominion over myself, and can determine my own movements.

Therefore that which is the very first among all movers, must predominate supremely over all the things moved.

Taking dominion to mean “the power to move”, this seems reasonable.

But this would be impossible if the mover were in any way attached to the mobile object, as it would have to be if it were the form or motive power of the latter. Consequently the first mover cannot be a body or a force in a body or a form in a body.

Now here we get to an interesting point.  As a human being, I have dominion over myself, and can so determine my own actions.  But I do so by virtue of my nature as a human being, by virtue of my species, my substantial form, my essence, call it what you will.  I do not do so by virtue of any accidental form or force that I’m currently manifesting.  An apple is red because it has ripened; but the turning red didn’t cause the ripeness.  Rather, both the red and the ripeness flow from the apple’s nature as an apple.

And so, once again, God cannot be an accidental form.  And this has interesting implications:

This is why Anaxagoras postulated an intelligence liberated from matter, that it might rule and move all things.

And indeed we will see that God (who is not a body, and is not composed of form and matter) yet has intellect and will.

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