Thomas Aquinas - the angelic doctor

A history of pantheism and scientific pantheism by Paul Harrison.

As long as a thing has being, God must be present to it …
If the divine action should cease, all things
would drop into nothingness instantly.

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The Ancient of Days by William Blake


Aquinas, the supreme theologian of Catholicism, was born near Naples in 1225 to a noble family, he was enrolled in the Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino at the tender age of five, and at seventeen became a Dominican novice. Soon after this he was kidnapped and detained for nearly two years by his own brothers. At the instigation of his mother, they tried to turn him away from his vocation, and even tempted him with a woman. He drove her from his room with a brand snatched from the fire.

After more than a year and a half of captivity, it became apparent that he would not relent, and he was released back to the Dominicans. After studies in Naples and Paris he was appointed as a master at the University of Paris in 1257. His period of writing was a brief sixteen years, but extraordinarily productive. On December 6 1273, while celebrating mass in the chapel of St Nicholas in Naples, he had a heavenly revelation: "I can do no more. Such things have been revealed to me that all that I have written seems to me as so much straw." From that day he wrote no more. He died shortly afterwards, on March 7, 1274, at the age of 49.

Aquinas is a panentheist (all-in-God) rather than a pantheist [see Varieties of pantheism]. He arrives through logical argument at the conclusion that God must be present in all things. He is so through a continual creation that keeps all things in existence, and as the formal cause of the being of each thing. In humans he is especially present, through grace, as the Holy Spirit.

However, He is not identical with his creation. As the first and final cause of all things, He also extends beyond the created world in time and in place, and he also passes beyond our understanding. We can know and love God in this life, but we can never fully comprehend him.

The texts are from the Summa Theologica, unless otherwise stated.


Selected passages.

Panentheism.

God is in all things by his power, since all things are subject to his power; He is by His presence in all things, since all things are bare and open to his eyes; He is in all things by His essence, because He is present to all as the cause of their being. [1.8.3]

God is in all things as an agent working upon them

God is in all things, not indeed as part of their essence, nor as an accident, but as an agent is present to that upon which it works. For an agent must be joined to that wherein it acts immediately, and touch it by its power. Now since God is being itself by His own essence, created being must be his proper effect … [I.8.1]

This presence is continuous

God causes this effect in things not only when they first begin to be, but as long as they are preserved in being; as for instance light is caused in the air by the sun as long as the air remains illuminated. Therefore as long as a thing has being, God must be present to it [I.8.1]

God keeps all things in existence through continual creation

We must certainly admit that things are kept in existence by God, and without God they would instantly become nothing… When the action of an incorporeal agent ends, the very existence of things created by it ends, just as when the action by movement of an efficient cause ends, the becoming of the thing generated instantly ends. It follows therefore that if the divine action should cease, all things would drop into nothingness instantly. [On the Power of God 5.1]

This presence is intimate

But being is innermost in each thing and most deeply inherent in all things since it is formal in respect of everything found in a thing. Hence it must be that God is in all things, and most intimately… . He acts immediately in all things. Hence nothing is distant from Him, as though it did not have God in itself. [I.8.1]

God is everywhere

God fills every place, not indeed as a body, for a body is said to fill place in so far as it excludes the presence of another body; but by God being in a place, others are not thereby excluded from it; rather indeed He Himself fills every place by the very fact that He gives being to the things that fill that place. [I.8.2]

To be everywhere primarily and per se belongs to God, and is proper to Him, because whatever number of places be supposed to exist, God must be in all of them, not as to part of him, but as to his very self. [1.8.4]

Knowledge of God occurs through union with God

We can know God because there is some likeness of Him inside us.
The created intellect cannot see the essence of God unless God by His grace unites Himself to the created intellect. [1.12.4]

Indwelling grace

God exists as the known in the knower and the beloved in the lover. And because by its action of knowing and loving, the rational creature attains to God himself, in this special way, God is said not only to exist in the rational creature but also to dwell therein as in his own temple… In the very gift of sanctifying grace, it is the Holy Spirit whom one possesses and who dwells in man. [1.43.3]


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