So Thomists believe that there are no real distinction between perfections in God as He is pure act and He isn't composed in any manner. But Im not getting how real distinctions between perfections can lead to act and potency composition.

  • What does mean "act and potency composition"? Can you refer to a precise question from Summa Theologiae or to a specific commentary on Aristotle?
    – Jo Wehler
    Feb 25 at 8:00
  • 1
    When act and potency are really distinct (as in the created world), they can be real parts that compose a whole, a creature with potencies and actions. In God, act and potency are one, and they are also one with his fully actual essence, and so cannot be his parts. They are only distinguished analogically by us.
    – Conifold
    Feb 25 at 8:15

1 Answer 1


If the perfections were really distinct, then it would be possible for them to subsist apart from each other. Then there could be a being with completely unsurpassable power, but which would lack perfect goodness or universal knowledge. This metaphysical possibility would then constitute an abstract, but real, act/potency division in the perfectly unified divine nature—there would have to be an external determination that the one nature is what It is—which would be in tension or conflict with said unity.

Or so the theory of divine simplicity goes. A corollary of the doctrine of pure actuality is that of impassibility, which is that God is all-determinative without being determined in any way by external conditions (and possibly even internal ones other than pure identity). If God has no inner variables such as could assume a diverse range of values in the first place, then "once" God is what It is (which is for all eternity, after all), there is nothing left to "decide" (nor was there ever, really, save it be something like the will to create). But then God's action will be all from this "once," "before" anything created does its own work, so no action of the divine nature is otherwise a response to the activity of any created thing whatsoever.

Consider also Aquinas' claim that God "is subsistent being itself" (ipsum esse subsistens). In this case, existence is not a predicate of things that exist, not firstly that is, but rather things exist by being predicated of some Existence, which Existence is then like a substance for those things (a subject of which they are metaphysically predicated, that is). God would be this via the creation relation, since creating something (from nothingness, no less) is causing something to exist. Now, if God is Existence, it seems as if God is Actuality, too, in some way, or then again the act/potency distinction itself has been blurred to oblivion by the ambient doctrine of simplicity (on behalf of unity and aseity, even) and so in God, the form of substance and the form of attribution are one. One might argue: if the one distinction is erased, why not the other (the act/potency one)? Again, there is an appeal to the doctrine of simplicity at the heart of the matter, since simplicity is for Aquinas what infinity is for Scotus:

As a first approximation, we can say that divine infinity is for Scotus what divine simplicity is for Aquinas. It’s the central divine-attribute generator.

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