I'll be reading, glossing, and posting Thomas Aquinas' Summa Contra Gentiles, chapter by chapter, about twice a week, until the final Amen. Your comments, questions, and constructive criticisms are welcome!

Friday, December 10, 2010

SCG, Book I, Chapter 30

Chapter 30: THE NAMES THAT CAN BE PREDICATED OF GOD [Quae nomina de Deo possint praedicari]

… [2] Since it is possible to find in God every perfection of creatures, but in another and more eminent way, whatever names unqualifiedly designate a perfection without defect are predicated of God and of other things: for example, goodness, wisdom, being, and the like. But when any name expresses such perfections
along with a mode that is proper to a creature, it can be said of God only according to likeness and metaphor [cum modo proprio creaturis, de Deo dici non potest nisi per similitudinem et metaphoram].

According to metaphor [Per metaphoram], what belongs to one thing is transferred to another, as when we say that a man is a stone because of the hardness of his intellect. Such names are used to designate the species of a created thing, for example, man and stone, for to each species belongs its own mode of perfection and being. The same is true of whatever names designate the properties of things, which are caused by the proper principles of their species. Hence, they can be said of God only metaphorically. But the names that express such perfections along with the mode of supereminence with which they belong to God [cum supereminentiae modo quo Deo conveniunt] are said of God alone [de solo Deo dicuntur]. Such names are the highest good, the first being, and the like.

[3] …[T]hat some of the aforementioned names signify a perfection
without defectis true with reference to that which the name was imposed to signify; for as to the mode of signification, every name is defective [absque defectu … quantum ad illud ad quod significandum nomen fuit impositum: quantum enim ad modum significandi, omne nomen cum defectu est]. For by means of a name we express things in the way in which the intellect conceives them [Nam nomine res exprimimus eo modo quo intellectu concipimus]. For our intellect, taking the origin of its knowledge from the senses, does not transcend the mode which is found in sensible things, in which the form and the subject of the form are not identical owing to the composition of form and matter [Intellectus autem noster, ex sensibus cognoscendi initium sumens, illum modum non transcendit qui in rebus sensibilibus invenitur, in quibus aliud est forma et habens formam, propter formae et materiae compositionem].

Now, a simple form is indeed found among such things, but one that is imperfect because it is not subsisting; on the other hand, though a subsisting subject of a form is found among sensible things, it is not simple but rather concreted. Whatever our intellect signifies as subsisting, therefore, it signifies in concretion [significat in concretione]; but what it signifies as simple, it signifies, not as that which is, but as that by which something is [quod vero ut simplex, significat non ut quod est, sed ut quo est].

As the annotated edition explains:

Concretionem habens. The concrete to St Thomas means the composite. Any existing created substance, as he teaches, is compounded of specific nature and individualising notes, of actuality and potentiality, of essence and existence. Thus, in creation, the abstract alone is simple, concrete being is compound. … Thus the concrete man is something that is: the abstract humanity is that whereby man is man, not something that is by itself.

As a result, with reference to the mode of signification there is in every name that we use an imperfection [in omni nomine a nobis dicto, quantum ad modum significandi, imperfectio invenitur], which does not befit God, even though the thing signified in some eminent way does befit God [res significata aliquo eminenti modo Deo conveniat]. This is clear in the name goodness and good. For goodness has signification as something not subsisting, while good has signification as something concreted. And so with reference to the mode of signification no name is fittingly applied to God; this is done only with reference to that which the name has been imposed to signify [quantum ad hoc nullum nomen Deo convenienter aptatur, sed solum quantum ad id ad quod significandum nomen imponitur]. Such names, therefore, as Dionysius teaches [De divinis nominibus I, 5, De caelesti hierarchia II, 3], can be both affirmed and denied of God. They can be affirmed because of the meaning of the name; they can be denied because of the mode of signification [affirmari quidem, propter nominis rationem; negari vero, propter significandi modum].

[4] Now, the mode of supereminence in which the abovementioned perfections are found in God can be signified by names used by us only through negation, as when we say that God is eternal or infinite, or also through a relation of God to other things, as when He is called the first cause or the highest good.
For we cannot grasp what God is, but only what He is not and how other things are related to Him [Non enim de Deo capere possumus quid est, sed quid non est, et qualiter alia se habeant ad ipsum], as is clear from what we said above.

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