How can divine creation produce creatures that are truly distinct from God?


And so you are right to note the tug between two different facts: that in a sense, outside of God there is nothing, but that the everyday things of our experience really do exist. There has to be a proper balance, and this way, pantheism/monism is not so much wrong as only focusing on half of the equation.

But this is where I think Thomistic thinking can help, especially when considering essence as a limitation or manifestation of existence (but existence itself, God, still retains His integrity as fullness, pure actuality).


Thanks for the reply! @RealisticCatholic. So we are acts of existence? I’ll look for that book. I wonder how these acts can sustain themselves (i.e. their relationship with the unconditioned existence)…is there a strict distinction?


It is precisely only in relationship to the Unconditioned Reality, Existence itself (God), that these acts of existence are maintained.

Not only when they first come to be be, but even now.

How so? Because the existence of any individual reality of our experience presupposes that it is an act of existence combined with an essence. An individual reality cannot be the cause of itself, hence it makes no sense to say that the act of existence is contributed from a thing’s essence.

Remember that an essence just is that limitation of a particular act of existence. It is distinct from existence, but it is not some positive “extra.”

Yet the distinction remains as that particular being endures, so even though we say a particular reality (“substance”) is an act of existence in a certain manner (like a water molecule or cat), it still depends on the conjoining of the essence with the act of existence. Hence, the ultimate cause of any conditioned reality in which its essence is distinct from its existence is a reality whose essence and existence are not distinct: This is what it means to be the Unconditioned Reality.


Where is it written that God is existence? Satan exists. What then, is the relationship between God and Satan?

If we are saying that nothing can exist apart from God, what is being cutoff from God mean?

Can someone give a reference to this teaching?


God is pure existence. Existence is objective, whereas essence is subjective. Existence is univocal, whereas essence is equivocal. Existence has grades, similar to the brightness or intensity of light.


That’s been Christian conception for the two millennia. In addition, God himself said it: YHWH (I am who am) He identified himself as being (existence) to Moses.


Can you explain the answer to my question about the relationship between God and Satan? I need a hard example. I just don’t understand. Are you saying that Satan is a part of God and not completely distinct from him?


I am asking a question, not “saying” anything.


Thanks again, @RealisticCatholic! So, I’ll rephrase (give my understanding) then you can tell me where/if I’m wrong:

We are acts of existence + essence. Essence means a specific limitation on existence.
We are not sustained by our essence but by existence (boundless).

Where I’m a bit lost is, is our existence then, furnished from divinity? Then the essence distinguishes us from it? What’s the ‘stuff’ of our being? Is it like a droplet of water vis-a-vis the ocean except this time the ocean doesn’t get “reduced” by one droplet because it is infinite?


(Part 1 of 2 FYI)

Let me first note that I myself am only beginning to be acquainted with Thomism. I’m only an amateur. So if you are finding my answers helpful, that only testifies to the even fuller potential of Thomistic/Scholastic philosophy to help you on your quest. That is, I also have much more to learn; and the more I learn, the more everything fits together!

I’m glad you’re finding the contribution helpful, since that just shows a little Thomism goes a long way!

So I definitely recommend you study these matters from other knowledgeable people dedicated to Thomistic metaphysics. Ed Feser is a good start. But also the book I recommended above. And other users on here like @Wesrock may be able contribute as well.

Now to your questions, as best as I can respond based on what I think you’re saying:

Yes, all other beings other than God are composites of existence + essence, or an act of existence that is limited in a certain way (i.e., this or that “essence”).

We are “sustained” by our existence in the sense that it is the act of existence that actualizes the potential, the essence. The concepts of actuality/act and potentiality/potency are over-arching themes in Thomistic thinking, so I suggest get acquainted with these ideas as well. God would be Pure Act, having no potential but ultimately actualizing all other potentials (all other substances, in essence-existence combo, yes, but also change in general, form+matter combo, etc.)

Remember that existence + essence belong together in all things except the Unconditioned Reality, so it might be more helpful to remember that we are sustained by the combination of both principles — the combination of which is due to the Unconditioned Reality, God, even in the here and now.


Cont’d/Part 2:

Is our existence furnished by divinity? If this means that God causes individual acts of existence, yes, of course. Essence is the limiting factor of a way of existing. So whatever else exists truly does exist, but it is not a constituent of the Unconditioned Reality itself, since it (God) remains distinct as pure existence. If God were existence + a limiting essence, God wouldn’t be the First Unconditioned Cause/Reality after all, and we’d just have to push back ultimate explanation of Reality back one level.

We can’t say that the “stuff” of our being, as individual beings or “substances” (a cat, a human, a water molecule, etc.), is the “stuff” of God in the sense that other beings are just part of God. They are distinct acts of existence caused by God.

Interesting/FYI/P.S.: There is a tension, a balance, that must be maintained. Saying all this means we cannot say that God + the world is more than God. How does this not lead to pantheism? I think imagination is the problem, because we are tempted to conceptualize God as just “another being” (and so limited) along side other beings, even when we know better not to do. But if God is Pure Existence, Pure Act, the Unconditioned Reality, then all things are ultimately “in” Him in the sense that all actual realities can only receive their actualization (becoming this or that; change in general) from pure actuality itself. If not — if say the Cat were not in God in some way — then where would the cat ultimately get its existence?

This actually leads to strong reason to consider God, the First Cause, as most resembling what we consider a Mind. For a cat does not exist in God as physical cat, which is limited. But if not, then it must be in God in some other way — and the only way the form of a cat can be in something (so a Thomist would say) besides in-forming matter (this or that particular cat) would be in a mind, as a concept. There is more to the argument than this, but it’s just a hint that everything so far seems to more and more align with the God of classical theism/traditional Christianity.

And so pantheism is nearing the truth, but it doesn’t get the answer quite right. But even from all that was said above, we still must consider all other beings as reflections of God. All things are “images of God.” This is simply due to the fact that all other beings reflect God, Unconditioned Existence, in various degrees of being. In fact, traditional Thomism would speak of a “hierarchy of being.” Think of God as light, and all other beings as various colors in the spectrum (when the light passes through a prism). But in this example, don’t think of a particular color as part of light, though, but rather as a limited manifestation of the “pure” act of light itself.


But you used things that already exist.


Based on what has been said in my posts — which reflects a dominant Christian/Catholic philosophical tradition (Thomism) and, I’d argue, most compatible with biblical Christianity:

There is no difficulty, because Satan is not “badness itself.” As an individual reality, a created being, Satan is good and participates in God’s goodness. But Satan, as an intelligence, chose his own will, opposed to God. Satan is therefore “fallen” as are the other angels (demons) who decisively chose against God.

Satan, like the other demons — like all other angels —are created beings, but not being itself (God), nor are they parts of God. So God is not war with himself, because Satan is simply distinct from God.


Thanks for explaining. I don’t know that understanding this kind of thing is important for me. Can you tell me what difference does knowing the answer to the question that the OP posed in the title would mean for my life? What would I miss out on if i never understood the answer? Is this mainly aimed at understanding what it means to be God? Or to get the biggest picture of all? To understand God and how everything works and fits together?


With due respect, there really is no obligation to participate in discussions we find silly or useless.


Not saying it is either. I just wondered if it is valuable in a practicle way to know this or is just blowing bubbles in bath water?


I ask because it genuinely nags at me. I’d like to know if pantheists and monists are wrong because it has occurred to me their arguments are not as silly as previously assumed.


W. Norris Clarke does an excellent job on this point in his Thomist book The One and the Many, particularly with the distinction between essence and existence. By existing, we all in some way participate in God’s act of existing. It’s a principle of similarity. However, what we are is not the same as what God is. Our essence is the principle of difference.

The key point is this. God created ex nihilo, and this includes the meaning he did not mold his own substance into other creatures. God did not change himself in creating. If God had never created or created differently, what he is would be the same thing he is now.

Like causes like, and so there is a similarity in the actuality of all created things and their cause, this being their being. And we get the Thomist doctrine on the analogy of being, as well.

Nothing is absolutely separate from God, as all things are dependent upon him to exist. But God did not mold himself into us. We participate, but we are not a part of him.


And of course, you will need to refresh yourself on what classical cosmological arguments for God’s existence do in fact say.

The argument from change, for example, that utilizes the potency vs act distinction concludes that there must ultimately be a fully actual reality, without any mixture of potentiality.

Obviously, this excludes Pantheism, since in this case, God or Ultimate Reality would be pure potentiality, or at least near full potentiality, with constant becoming. Even if one wanted to claim that all physical reality is fully actual, it would not be so in the way concluded by the argument: There must be a single reality that includes all actuality totally in itself — not as as some combination of actual beings. But even then, it’s obvious that the Universe does not contain all actualities. Dinosaurs do not currently exist, for example.

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Is the substance of creatures 'potentiality'?
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