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G D His Existence And His Nature -Rev. R. Garigou-Lagrange, O.P.

 

St. Thomas defines the notion of proper cause in his Commentary on Aristotle's Metaphysics, Book V, ch. ii, lect. 3, and in the Alnalytica Post., Book I, lect. 10, entitled "Quartus Modus Dicendi per se," i.e., the fourth mode of per se predication. His teaching, which constitutes the basis of the proofs for the existence of God, is summed up in the following propositions.

1) The proper cause is that which can produce a certain effect by itself (per se) and immediately as such (primo). It is that cause upon which the effect per se primo, necessarily and immediately, depends, just as a property depends upon the essence from which it is derived, e. g., the properties of a circle from the nature of the circle. The proper effect is like a property manifested ad extra.

2) The proper cause, inasmuch as it is a necessary requisite, differs from the accidental cause, just as there is opposition between these two propositions: a man generates a man; Socrates generates a man. It is purely accidental for the one who generates to be Socrates, and still more so for him to be a philosopher. Thus we say that the movements in the universe required a prime mover, but we should be guilty of precipitation if we at once concluded that this prime mover must be free.

3) The proper cause, inasmuch as it is an immediate requisite, differs from every other cause, no matter how strictly it is required. Thus, to carve a statue requires a sculptor. To say that it requires an artist would be to designate too general a cause. We must state precisely the kind of cause required. Similarly, it would not be definite enough to say that the movements in the universe require a primary being: what they immediately demand is a prime mover.

4) The most particular causes are the proper cause of the most particular effects. Thus, this animal is the proper cause of the generation of this living exemplar of the same species; but it does not explain the existence of animal life on earth, and it stands as much in need of being explained, as does its proper effect, of which it is said to be the univocal cause or one which belongs to the same species. We have here a causality of a very inferior order. St. Thomas writes: "It is clear that of two things in the same species, one cannot per se cause the form of the other as such, since it would then be the cause of its own form, which is essentially the same as the form of the other; but it can be the cause of this form inasmuch as it is in matter, in other words, it may be the cause that  this particular matter receives this particular form.

Summa Theol., Ia, q. 104, a. 1.

 

5) The most universal effects demand as their proper cause a cause higher than all others.

Ia, q. 45, a. 5.

 

This body, which is in motion, may truly be the cause of this other motion, but if the motion itself, wherever we find it realized, whether in corporeal or incorporeal beings, has not within itself its own sufficient reason for what it is, then it must have for its cause a primary and universal mover of corporeal and incorporeal beings. Therefore, this cause must be a prime mover, superior to all motion, of a much higher order, and for this reason the cause is said to be equivocal and not univocal.

6) Finally, we must distinguish between the proper cause and becoming, i.e., the apparition of such and such an individual effect; also, between the proper cause of the being itself and the conservation of this effect.

Ia, q. 104, a. 1.

 

According to Aristotle's example, the builder is the proper cause of the construction of the house, and if he stops working before the house is completed, the house is no longer in course of construction; but he is not the proper cause of the being of this house; if he dies, the house will not cease to exist. Likewise, the son survives his father; the heat of the sun is necessary, not only for the generation of plants and animals, but also for their preservation. Hence, universal and higher causes are not only productive, but likewise preservative of their effects. Their causality is permanent, always in act, and we affirm the same of God's causality.

This notion of proper cause illuminates the Thomistic proofs for the existence of God, so that we can perceive the connection between them.

In each of these a posteriori proofs, St. Thomas starts from a fact known as certain from experience, and from a rational principle, which is necessary and evident, he proves the existence of God, the proper and universal cause of the universal effects which originate from Him. "Oportet enim universaliores effectus in universaliores et priores causas reducere" (for the more universal effects must be reduced to more universal and prior causes).

Ia, q. 45, a. 5.

 

The order of these five proofs corresponds to the natural process of the reasoning mind. In fact, St. Thomas begins with the most evident signs of the contingency of earthly things, such as motion, and then goes on to consider those which bear a deeper significance, such as the imperfection and the orderly arrangement of composite things. Likewise, in order to arrive at the conclusion of his proofs, he shows step by step the necessary existence and absolute transcendence of the First Cause, so as to make it evident that this cause is essentially distinct from the world, which is changeable, composite, and imperfect, and that the name of God can be given to it. In fact, what people generally understand by this name is the prime mover, the first cause, the necessary and supreme being, who has created and ordained the whole universe.

All these arguments can be summed up in a more general one, based on the principle of causality, which may be stated as follows: That which does not exist by itself, can exist only by another, which is self-existent. Now, experience shows that there are beings endowed with activity, life, and intelligence, which do not exist of and by themselves, since they are born and die. Therefore, they received their existence from another, who must be existence, life, and intelligence itself. If such were not the case, we should have to say that the greater comes from the less, the higher form of life from the lower, and that the plurality of beings comes from a primary being less perfect than all the others taken together.

 








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