CT 9: Simplicity of God

In Chapter 9, Thomas explains that God is “simple,” that is, not composed of multiple parts.

A similar course of reasoning clearly shows that the first mover must be simple. For any composite being must contain two factors that are related to each other as potency to act. But in the first mover, which is altogether immobile, all combination of potency and act is impossible, because whatever is in potency is, by that very fact, movable. Accordingly the first mover cannot be composite.

I do not see why any composite being must “contain two factors that are related to each other as potency to act.” But then, I’m not entirely sure what it means for being to “contain two factors that are related to each other as potency to act.” To review, potency, or potentiality, is the possibility of having some form, as my son has the potency of being a man. Act is the actuality. Once my son grows up, he will actually be a man. But what the quote phrase actually means I don’t understand. But the argument that God, being immobile and immutable, is solely act with no potency is clear enough.

Perhaps it’s simply that a being consisting of two or more pieces has the possibility of being separated into its pieces; that’s the potency, and the individual pieces are the act.

The subsequent argument makes more sense.

Moreover, something has to exist prior to any composite, since composing elements are by their very nature antecedent to a composite. Hence the first of all beings cannot be composite.

Because if it were, its components would have existed beforehand, and it would not be the first of all beings.

Even within the order of composite beings we observe that the simpler things have priority. Thus elements are naturally prior to mixed bodies. Likewise, among the elements themselves, the first is fire, which is the simplest of all. Prior to all elements is the heavenly body, which has a simpler construction, since it is free from all contrariety. Hence the truth remains that the first of beings must be absolutely simple.

And here again we have an appeal to Aristotelian physics, which I have a hard time taking seriously. On the other hand, we moderns would agree that atoms, for example, are naturally prior to, say, books, computers, and human beings, and that electrons, protons, and neutrons are naturally prior to atoms. But I’m not sure that this is truly relevant.

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