Today’s Aquinas: Does God Love What Is Good?

Today’s Aquinas: Does God Love What Is Good? April 6, 2015

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

Given intellect, says Thomas, God must also have volition: He must be able to will, to choose:

We perceive, further, that God must have volition. For He understands Himself, who is perfect good, as is clear from all that has been hitherto established. But good as apprehended is necessarily loved, and love operates through the will. Consequently God must have volition.

In Thomas’ anthropology, choice operates at two levels.  At the animal level, we perceive things (pizza, donuts, sex, rest when we are tired) that are desirable, and then we desire them bodily, they attract us.  This is our sensitive appetite.  My body knows what it wants, you might say, but it has no judgement: it wants the donuts whether more donuts are good for me or not.  Then, at the human level we also have intellect and will.  I not only see the donuts, I understand that they are tasty…and I also understand that they are fattening.  Taking my ultimate good into account (and, alas, sometimes disregarding it), I decide whether to have a donut or not.  This is an act of the will.  For human beings, choice follows understanding as desire follows perception.

The process is that we understand the choices available to us, we understand the relative goodness of each; and then we will, we choose, the one that seems best.  I say “seems” because in our human limitations and sinfulness we are often confused about what is best for us; and sometimes, with St. Paul, we really do will the lesser instead of the greater even though, in a way, we’d like to will the greater.  In general, though, we will the one we understand to be the best for us.  (Our understanding is likely imperfect; hence the need for proper formation of conscience.)  And that recognition of goodness and act of will is precisely what Thomas calls love.  Simply put, we love what we choose; and love, as the marriage counselors say, is a daily decision.  I love my wife; and the measure of my love is the extent to which I have chosen her and her good, forsaking all others, as I promised on our wedding day.

Now, as Thomas showed in the preceding few chapters, God has intellect and understands Himself first of all.  And God being ultimate and perfect Good, and knowing Himself perfectly, God in His understanding of Himself must necessarily love Himself.  (And here we see the beginning of Thomas’ teaching on the Trinity:  God is; God understands what He is; and loving what is good, God loves what He is and His understanding of it.  And all of these are necessarily united in the one God.)

And so because God loves, He must have volition, or will.

Thomas continues:

Moreover, we showed above that God is the first mover. But the intellect, assuredly, does not move except through the intermediacy of appetite, and the appetite that follows intellectual apprehension is the will. Therefore God must have volition.

God is intellect, as Thomas has shown; and the way in which intellect acts is by understanding what is good and by choosing it.  God acts; and hence He must act by choosing in accordance with His understanding.  Or to put it another way, intellect and will are two sides of the same coin; they go together.

photo credit: Public Domain; source Wikimedia Commons

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