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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
On the Value of Our Concepts of the Deity
By Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
 
Part I—From the ‘Summa Theologica’

IT is obvious that terms implying negation or extrinsic relation in no way signify the divine substance, but simply the removal of some attribute from Him, or His relation with other beings, or rather the relation of other beings with Him. As to appellations that are absolute and positive,—such as good, wise, and the like,—various opinions have been entertained. It was held by some that these terms, though used affirmatively, were in reality devised for the purpose of elimination, and not with the intent of positive attribution. Hence, they claimed, when we say that God is a living being, we mean that God’s existence is not that of inanimate things; and so on for other predicates. This was the position of Rabbi Moses. According to another view these terms are employed to denote a relation between God and creatures; so that for instance, when we say, God is good, we mean, God is the cause of goodness in all things.  1
  Both interpretations, however, are open to a threefold objection. For, in the first place, neither can offer any explanation of the fact that certain terms are applied to the Deity in preference to others. As He is the source of all good, so He is the cause of all things corporeal; consequently, if by affirming that God is good we merely imply that He is the cause of goodness, we might with equal reason assert that He is a corporeal being….  2
  Again, the inference from these positions would be that all terms applied to God have only a secondary import, such, for instance, as we give to the word healthy, as applied to medicine; whereby we signify that it is productive of health in the organism, while the organism itself is said, properly and primarily, to be healthy.  3
  In the third place, these interpretations distort the meaning of those who employ such terms in regard to the Deity. For, when they declare that He is the living God, they certainly mean something else than that He is the cause of our life or that He is different from inanimate bodies.  4
  We are obliged, therefore, to take another view, and to affirm that such terms denote the substantial nature of God, but that, at the same time, their representative force is deficient. They express the knowledge which our intellect has of God; and since this knowledge is gotten from created things, we know Him according to the measure in which creatures represent Him. Now God, absolutely and in all respects perfect, possesses every perfection that is found in His creatures. Each created thing, therefore, inasmuch as it has some perfection, resembles and manifests the Deity; not as a being of the same species or genus with itself, but as a supereminent source from which are derived its effects. They represent Him, in a word, just as the energy of the terrestrial elements represents the energy of the sun.  5
  Our manner of speech, therefore, denotes the substance of God, yet denotes it imperfectly, because creatures are imperfect manifestations of Him. When we say that God is good, we do not mean that He is the cause of goodness or that He is not evil. Our meaning is this: What we call goodness in creatures pre-exists in God in a far higher way. Whence it follows, not that God is good because He is the source of good, but rather, because He is good, He imparts goodness to all things else; as St. Augustine says, “Inasmuch as He is good, we are.”  6
 
 
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