The Thought of Thomas Aquinas

By Brian Davies | Go to book overview

5 Perfection and Goodness

Aquinas Thinks That God Defies Our Comprehension. But, As We Have Seen, He Also Holds That We Are Still Able To Make True Statements About Him. So Far, However, We Have Only Looked At How He Defends This Thesis In General Terms, and It Is Now Time To Descend To Particulars. What Exactly Does He Think We Can Say Of God? His Remarks On the Matter Deal With Assertions Of Two Types: (1) Those Which Can Be Made and Defended On Rational Grounds Without Recourse To Special (Christian) Revelation; (2) Those Which Derive From Revelation. the Second Group Will Concern Us Later In This Book. In This Chapter, and the Three Chapters Following, We Shall Consider Group (1), Starting With the Assertions 'God Is Perfect' and 'God Is Good'.


God Is Perfect

Aquinas is not insensitive to objections to calling God perfect. For example, so he notes, on grounds of etymology we should think of a 'perfect' thing as something that is 'thoroughly made' (from the Latin perficere). But God is not made. He is the unmade Maker of everything other than himself. How, then, can he be called 'perfect'?

'Perfect' does not seem a suitable term to apply to God, for etymologically it means 'thoroughly made'. Now since we would not say that God is made, we should not say that he is perfect. 1

Then again, says Aquinas, God's nature is to exist. But every existing thing, no matter how lowly, exists, while to say that something is perfect seems to imply that it is special in some sense. So should we not say that the fact that God's nature is to exist means that he is nothing special and, therefore, not perfect? How could he be this if he is what anything manages to be?

-80-

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