Gods Liberality

In summarizing the results of his investigations of the personifying divine attributes analogous to human intellective attitudes, Aquinas observes that everything in SCG 1.89-91 should show us that 'of our attitudes, none can be in God strictly speaking except joy and love, although [of course] even they are not in him considered as passion, as they are in us' (91.763). So, applying the relational method to the vast array of human feelings and their rational counterparts has provided us with just those two additional divine attributes. But those two play special roles among human attitudes, as Aquinas observes, expressing himself in a way that suggests he's at least contemplating such roles for their divine analogues as well: 'love and joy, which are in God strictly speaking, are the principles of all attitudes—love in the manner of a moving principle, obviously, but joy in the manner of an end' (91.766).

And now that these very few, very significant divine attitudes have been identified and examined, in an investigation that parallels the investigation of the passions in human beings, Aquinas is ready to proceed with the theological parallel to a treatise on the virtues, the regular sequel to a treatise on the passions.

It seemed obvious that the concept of a passion couldn't be applied to God, and the concept of a virtue may seem almost as obviously inapplicable. To begin with what's most obvious, at least some of the human virtues that Aquinas recognizes consist in reason's control of passions—for example, the virtues of sobriety and chastity in particular, of temperance or continence

more generally.

45 See 92.777, where all four of these are rejected; also ST la.21.1, ad 1: 'Some moral virtues have to do with passions—e.g. temperance with longings, courage with fear and rash attitudes, mildness with anger. And virtues of that sort cannot be attributed to God except metaphorically.'

end p.250

Kretzmann, Norman , (deceased) formerly Susan Linn Sage Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Cornell University, New York

The Metaphysics of Theism

Print ISBN 9780199246533, 2001 pp. [251]-[254]

No such virtues could characterize God. Again, there are no conceivable circumstances in which an omnipotent, omniscient being could appropriately

be called courageous.

46 Courage (fortitude) is rejected in 92.775 and 778.

But we don't have to consider the virtues one by one in order to see that they can't be converted into divine attributes. A virtue is, by definition, a habitus, a disposition to act in a certain way in certain circumstances; and a habitus, as Aquinas points out near the beginning of the first of his five chapters on divine virtues, 'is an unperfected activity, midway between a potentiality and its actualization, one might say ... In God, however, there is [only] supremely perfect activity. In him, therefore, there is no activity having the status of a habitus—for instance, [no habitus] such as knowledge— but, rather, [only its actualization,] such as considering, which is the final, complete activity' with which that habitus, knowledge, is associated (92.770). Aquinas offers plenty of other grounds, general and particular, on which to reject the attribution of virtues to God, but this sampling is enough, I think, to show what any attempt to make such an attribution is up against.

And yet, the principle at the heart of the relational method is itself enough to show that, despite all such obstacles, there must be some respect in which virtues can, after all, be attributed to God. Tor just as God's being is universally perfect, in some way or other containing within itself the perfections of all beings [1.28], so also must his goodness in some way or other contain within itself the goodnesses of all things. Now a virtue is a goodness belonging to a virtuous person, for "it is in accordance with it that one is called good, and what one does is called good" [Nicomachean Ethics II 6, 1106a22-4], Therefore, in its own way the divine goodness must contain all virtues' (92.768). 47

47 See also an earlier sketch of this account in 37.304.

And we know by now how absolute simplicity will shape the unique way in which they must be contained. Tor being good is not suited to God through something else added to him but rather [only] through his essence, since he is altogether simple. Moreover, God does not act through anything added to his essence, since his acting is his essence (as has been end p.251


© Copyright Oxford University Press, 2006. All Rights Reserved shown [1.45 and 73]). Therefore, his virtue is not some habitus, but rather his own essence' (92.769).

These considerations remove some obstacles to attributing virtues to God, but only the general obstacles, those that seemed to crop up in the theoretical account of the nature of virtues and in the natural-theological account of God's nature as developed so far. However, a specific virtue's essential association with human passions constitutes an irremovable obstacle, at least as regards non-metaphorical, direct attribution to God, and in 1.92 Aquinas explicitly blocks the attribution of seven different virtues on that basis, indicating that those are only a sampling of human virtues that

can't be attributed to God.

48 Temperance and courage (775); sobriety, chastity, temperance, and continence (777); courage, magnanimity, mildness, 'and other virtues of that sort' (778).

Virtues such as those, he concludes, are in God not as characterizing his nature but only as divine ideas—'as is the case regarding other corporeal things' besides the passions with which those virtues are linked (93.790).

But since the general obstacles in the way of non-metaphorically attributing virtues to God have now been removed, some such attributions can (and must) be made if there are any human virtues that don't present the specific obstacle of being essentially associated with passions. The 'contemplative' virtues, such as knowledge and wisdom, are clearly free of any such association, and Aquinas devotes a chapter (1.94) to establishing them as divine attributes. But it's moral virtues we're interested in, and, Aquinas observes, 'there are some virtues directing the active life of a human being that have to do not with passions but with actions—e.g. truthfulness, justice,

liberality, magnificence, prudence, and art' (93.779).

49 See also ST la.21.1, ad 1: 'However, other moral virtues have to do with activities, such as giving and spending—e.g. justice, liberality, and magnificence—which are also not in the sensory part but in the will. And so nothing prevents our positing attributes of that sort in God.'

'Virtues of this sort', he says, 'are perfectings of will and of intellect, which are the sources of activities devoid of passion. But in God there is will and intellect lacking no perfection. Therefore [virtues of this sort] cannot be absent from God' (93.781). Aquinas argues briefly for each of these as a divine attribute (except magnificence), but for present purposes I'm interested only in liberality, the one to which he gives the most attention here.

Liberality can be loveless, and worthless: 'though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor. . . and have not love, it profiteth me nothing.'

end p.252


© Copyright Oxford University Press, 2006. All Rights Reserved

But love can't be illiberal. Liberality is the virtue most pertinent to the rest of the subject-matter of this chapter because, of all the virtues under

consideration here, liberality's the one that's indispensable to love.

50 And at least once, albeit in an objection, liberality is picked out as the virtue through which 'a human being is most of all assimilated to God, "who gives to all abundantly and does not reproach", as is said in James 1[: 5]' (ST IIaIIae.117.6, obj.l). Aquinas's rejoinder (excerpted later in this paragraph) doesn't really dispute this claim.

All intellective, volitional loving, but especially divine loving, motivates freely giving of one's own what is not owed, and liberality is the virtue that gets

expressed in the act of freely giving of one's own what is not owed.

51 On the connection of liberality with love, see also SCG III.128.3007.

God 'wills to share his goodness with something not because he might thereby gain some advantage for himself but because sharing himself is suited to him as the spring of goodness; and to give, not for any benefit expected from the giving but for goodness itself and for the appropriateness of giving (convenientiam dationis), is the act of liberality . . . God, therefore,

is characterized by liberality in the highest degree' (93.785).

52 See also ST la.44.4, ad 1: God 'alone is characterized by liberality in the highest degree, since he does not [ever] act for some advantage (utilitatem) of his own, but only for his own goodness'.

Viewed against the background of our discussion of love, these descriptions show that to give in that way is also one of the acts of love, an act that is a component of'moving toward union', especially when, as in this case, the giving of one's own is a giving of oneself. On at least one occasion Aquinas argues that, for just such reasons, the virtue expressed by God's giving might be identified less precisely as liberality than as 'charity, which is the greatest of the virtues', because 'divine giving stems from the fact that he loves human beings' (ST Ilallae.117.6, ad 1). But liberality is the virtue standardly associated with God's giving, with God as 'the distributor of the totality of all goods' (93.790), and especially with what I called earlier the gifts of creation: 'God . . . brought things into being out of no indebtedness, but out of sheer liberality' (SCG 11.44.1217).

In Chapter Seven I argued for a necessitarian explanation of the creation of something or other, based on the Dionysian principle, which Aquinas accepts: goodness is by its very nature diffusive of itself and (thereby) of being. Is that explanation compatible with this attribution of liberality? I think so, because, as I said at the end end p.253


© Copyright Oxford University Press, 2006. All Rights Reserved of Chapter Seven, God's will is necessitated as regards whether to create, but fully free as regards what to create. The created things that do actually exist are, then, the freely chosen recipients of divine liberality, of the freely given, unowed manifestations of goodness that constitute the pre-condition of love's real union and the first move toward it. As we've seen Aquinas putting it when the Dionysian spirit is on him, 'out of love God "makes" all things, giving them being, and "perfects" all things, filling out individuals with their proper perfections, and "contains" all things, sustaining them in being, and "turns" all things—that is, directs them toward himself as toward their end' (In DDN IV: L9.409).

Anyone who knows the whole story can't help being disappointed at the pale thinness of natural theology's best account of God's loving and giving. Still, this account is not to be disdained. On the contrary, it is part of what should be reason's master-work. The fullness of God's loving and giving emblazoned in John 3: 16 is out of natural theology's reach, though it needn't be out of the natural theologian's mind.

end p.254

Kretzmann, Norman , (deceased) formerly Susan Linn Sage Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Cornell University, New York

The Metaphysics of Theism

Print ISBN 9780199246533, 2001 pp. [255]

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