Summa Says – You don’t know what “God exists” means

FOURTH ARTICLE [I, Q. 3, Art. 4] Whether Essence and Existence Are the Same in God?

Obj. 2: Further, we can know whether God exists as said above (Q. 2, A. 2); but we cannot know what He is. Therefore God’s existence is not the same as His essence–that is, as His quiddity or nature.

Reply Obj. 2: “To be” can mean either of two things. It may mean the act of essence, or it may mean the composition of a proposition effected by the mind in joining a predicate to a subject. Taking “to be” in the first sense, we cannot understand God’s existence nor His essence; but only in the second sense. We know that this proposition which we form about God when we say “God is,” is true; and this we know from His effects (Q. 2, A. 2).

I love this. How can God’s existence be the same as His essence, when we know He exists, but can’t know what He is? St Thomas doesn’t hold back, and tells us that we don’t know what it means that God exists, even if we know it to be true.

God’s existence is not the same as the existence of you or me or the angels or numbers or anything else in existence. He doesn’t exist as a thing that could conceivably exist or not. Existence as we know it is something subsequent to God; He created it. He is so far beyond all, that He is even, as Dionysius puts it, “beyond being”.

We know that He exists in an unknowable way. Our every attempt to grasp His existence is doomed to fail. We could even say, taking existence as just the existence we know, that God does not exist. But we’d also have to say that He doesn’t not exist. He is above existence and non-existence.

For things, all existence occurs within a space, and makes that space occupied rather than unoccupied, like adding a drawing to blank paper. Their existence realises some possibility. But God’s existence is logically prior to everything, or else He isn’t God, and so there is no space that He occupies, no possibility for God’s existence that is realised. He just is.

Why does this delight me so much? I think it’s because it means that, since we can’t know God in Himself through our minds, we must rely entirely on another, more intimate, way. We must love Him. We must be one with Him.

God bless!

The Ontological Argument for God’s Existence

[This is my favourite argument for God’s existence. I love the idea that God’s existence should be demonstrable, and even undeniable, from absolutely nothing but logical thinking.]

Consider in your mind, the idea of That-Than-Which-Nothing-Greater-Can-Be-Thought. Whatever That may be, it is impossible to think anything greater.

You have conceived this concept, and so That-Than-Which-Nothing-Greater-Can-Be-Thought may be said to exist in your thoughts.

Now, either That-Than-Which-Nothing-Greater-Can-Be-Thought exists outside of your thoughts also, or it doesn’t.

But if it doesn’t exist beyond your thoughts, it would be greater (in thought), if it did exist outside of your mind. But then there could be a greater thought than that which, by definition, is That-Than-Which-Nothing-Greater-Can-Be-Thought, which is a contradiction. To think of That-Than-Which-Nothing-Greater-Can-Be-Thought existing outside of our thoughts is greater than to think of That-Than-Which-Nothing-Greater-Can-Be-Thought, being confined to mere thought.

Hence That-Than-Which-Nothing-Greater-Can-Be-Thought must exist also beyond our thoughts, in reality.

What about islands?

How about That-Island-Than-Which-No-Greater-Island-Can-Be-Thought? Must that exist too?

No. As a creation, Islands are necessarily limited, and so we must consider them as at most times and in most places, not existing. Now, an island would be greater if it was, beyond mere thoughts, in every place and time (it’s a lot more convenient to me, at least). However, then it would no longer be an island at all (it would be upon its own coast!).

And so, That-Island-Than-Which-No-Greater-Island-Can-Be-Thought, is a contradiction, and cannot exist, either in or beyond thought. While the thought of the verbal formula [That-Island-Than-Which-No-Greater-Island-Can-Be-Thought] does exist in the mind, the actual thing, even as a conception of logic, cannot exist in the mind, because it contradicts the definition of an island.

And the same goes for all finite things.

To help illustrate, consider that there does not, and cannot, exist a greatest finite number. By virtue of being finite, it has a boundary, an end (fin), and hence, it is always possible to exceed that boundary.

In fact, all definitions impose boundaries, and so, the argument does not work for anything that is defined. And so we arrive at the conclusion, that That-Than-Which-Nothing-Greater-Can-Be-Thought, cannot be defined. And how extraordinarily great It must be, to be too great for our definitions!

St. Anselm of Canterbury, pray for us.

God bless you!