DE&E: Chapter 4:6

I’m back from gallivanting, and I’m mostly recovered from several days of diehard Tcl/Tk geekery. So, on to Chapter 4, paragraph 6 of De Ente et Essentia.

In the previous paragraph, Thomas showed that the “intelligences”, e.g., angels, are composites of form and existence. Now he goes on to show that in addition, the angels have their existence not of themselves, but of the first cause, which is God.

Everything that pertains to a thing, however, either is caused by the principles of its own nature, as risibility in man, or else comes from some extrinsic principle, as light in the air from the influence of the sun.

Everything about a thing has a principle, that is, some cause. And that cause is either from within, from the thing’s nature, or from without. My natural hair color is brown (with bits of gray); or I can dye it black if I choose.

I find Thomas example interesting: apparently man is naturally comical. (Although, a secondary meaning of risible is to have the ability to laugh; I suspect this is actually what Thomas had in mind, rather than saying that man naturally induces laughter in others.) (Of course, both statements are true.)

Now, it cannot be that existence itself is caused by the very form or quiddity of the thing (I mean as by an efficient cause), because then the thing would be its own efficient cause, and the thing would produce itself in existence, which is impossible.

And anyway, we’ve already shown that angels can’t simply be their own existence, as then they’d have no form.

Therefore, everything the existence of which is other than its own nature has existence from another.

It is not an angel’s nature to exist, and so the angel must have its existence from another. OK.

And since everything that is through another is reduced to that which is through itself as to a first cause, there is something that is the cause of existing in all things in that this thing is existence only. Otherwise, we would have to go to infinity in causes, for everything that is not existence alone has a cause of its existence, as said above.

The emphasized phrase is difficult. Let’s take it piece by piece. “…everything that is through another” means “every being whose existence is caused by some other being”. “…that which is through itself as to a first cause” must, I think, mean that being which is its own cause, which causes its own existence: the first cause, or God. That leaves use with “is reduced to”. In other words, if A is caused by B, and B by C, then A is ultimately caused by C. And if C is caused by D, then A is ultimately caused by D. This is a reduction. And so then, there is either an infinite chain of causes or we ultimately get to the first cause, God…and A’s existence reduces to that of God’s existence.

Or, in Thomas’ words:

It is clear, therefore, that the intelligences are form and existence and have existence from the first being, which is existence alone, and this is the first cause, which is God.

Comments are closed.