Whether a creature is more perfect in itself or in God's knowledge according to Saint Thomas Aquinas

Joseph Anthony Mordente, Marquette University


In his Summa Theologiae, Saint Thomas Aquinas states that an effect is found more perfectly in its cause than in itself. When analyzed in terms of the relationship between God and creation, it seems that a creature should be more perfect in God than as actually existing. This last statement seems problematic if, as many scholars have claimed, Saint Thomas' philosophical position maintains that actual existence (esse) lies at the heart of the reality of any effect. Why problematic? Because if actual existence makes something be real (or perfect)--since it is the "actuality of all actuations and the perfection of all perfections" (De Potentia, 7, 2 ad 9)--then it seems at the very least, paradoxical, that even though what intrinsically and as a component perfects an effect is existence, the effect is more perfect in its cause (where it does not actually exist as such) than it is in itself. Now, an authentic existentialism maintains that an effect (a creature) is real or perfect when it actually exists and not as it is found in its cause (God). However, an essentialism maintains the converse. In Saint Thomas one finds an abundance of texts which give support to an existentialist interpretation of his metaphysical position. However, there are four texts--In I Sent., d. 36, q. 1, a. 3 ad 2; De Veritate, q. 4, a, 6 sol.; Summa Theologiae, I, 18, 4 ad 3; De Substantiis Separatis, c. 14, lines 57-86--which seem to argue that a creature is more perfect as it is in God than as it is in itself. These texts would support an essentialist interpretation of his position. Thus, through a careful examination of these four texts, this dissertation answers the general question of whether Saint Thomas Aquinas is an essentialist or existentialist by examining his answer to the more specific question of whether a creature is more perfect in itself or in God's knowledge.

Recommended Citation

Mordente, Joseph Anthony, "Whether a creature is more perfect in itself or in God's knowledge according to Saint Thomas Aquinas" (1997). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9823986.