Is the substance of creatures 'potentiality'?


Being is good. Therefore God is act of creation. He cannot do otherwise.


Nope! God does not have to create.


Ah, but he is eternally creating. There was no before that.


The state of decision is a potentiality.


Oh really? :open_mouth:

Wouldn’t this mean he is creator by nature rather than choice?


No. The only thing God wills necessarily is himself (the alternative that God not will himself is not possible). Creation is willed voluntarily. If it was involuntary, then God would have to be determined to that specific possible end instead of another possible end, and that would either require and external cause (and so this wouldn’t actually be God) or be an ontological brute fact (which we reject). There is also no beginning or end to God’s will. No process of deciding. The act proceeds from his essence (which is his knowledge) and voluntarily, in his eternity.


I don’t mind offering my thoughts, but I’m not sure what specifically you are interested in hearing about. Anything in particular you want me to focus on?


Oops! Sorry, I meant to tag this Ghosty: @Ghosty:


Is it possible he wills all possible realities?


That Ghosty is this Ghosty. My username didn’t survive the forum change. :slight_smile:


It would appear that Aquinas is analogically asserting that in the case of God it is His very nature to have no remaining potentiality in his substance.

What does that really mean? I dont know, I have never physically experienced a substance with no remaining potentiality sorry (though the planets of old may be an exception as their extremely limited potentiality is allegedly fully in act).

By definition such a substance would not seem to be perceptible to the senses, for such requires the ability of at least its accidents to change and therefore be in potency.

Regardless, your question was about creatures not about trying to extrapolate this vocab, based on sense experience, to the spiritual uncaused cause.


@Wesrock , @Ghosty1981, can we say though that God having a capacity to actualize necessarily involves the actualizable being part of existence? Where is our potentiality as creatures located prior to our creation?

The chief problem my monist friend is having is that our existence as “becoming things” shows that potentiality is a thing…frankly, I don’t see how she’s wrong. If potentiality wasn’t a thing, we couldn’t exist (non-God being)…no?


Generally speaking, something needs to have at least some actuality to be affected by another. God is the only one who can create from nothing, as only infinite actuality can overcome infinite potentiality. But it’s not as if the potentiality exists anywhere in itself, it’s generally just a principle of how some actual thing can change.


Potentiality doesn’t have to be a “thing” as a thing is something actual. Potential expresses the fact that something can come into being. Since God is all-powerful, every creature exists “potentially” by virtue of God’s ability to create it, but this does not require actual, physical matter nor anything like it. It is enough to say that God can create potential and act at once through His Power and Will.

The potential in matter in the case of individual humans, at least insofar as our bodies are concerned, does exist before the human person as atoms and DNA and such, but God could just as easily make us instantly out of nothing. Our souls are made “out of nothing”, immediately by God, and inform the matter that becomes our bodies. Our souls don’t pre-exist in themselves (like some Platonic form), but the idea of us exists within God. Just like an architect has the idea of a house before it is built, God has an idea of each individual. An actual house, however, does not exist until the matter (boards, nails, ect) are given form, and an actual person does not exist until the body has a soul.

God does not require pre-existing matter in order to create, however, because His infinite will and power can create both matter and form ex nihilo. God does sometimes use matter that He has already made, and sometimes creates matter and form ex nihilo. It is as if the architect creates the boards and nails at the very moment he builds the house.

None of this means that there is potential within God, as each idea is an actual idea (insofar as we can speak of ideas within God), just as the architect’s idea of a house is an actual idea even if it isn’t an actual physical house; the potential for being a house exists in the boards and nails. Each idea doesn’t necessarily have its own existence within matter. This also doesn’t mean that every possible thing actually exists in some world, though perhaps it might (we aren’t given insight into that in this life). It is enough that God has an infinite span of “ideas” that really exist within His infinite Divine Knowledge. In fact, it is perhaps best not to speak of an infinite number of ideas at all, but rather one simple, infinite Being that has given form to multitudes of individual forms, analogous to how one invisible and simple clear light puts forth multitudes of colors when it touches matter, as the same clear light makes my shirt blue and a car red.


Thanks, both of u! So…potentiality is the same as nothingness? Or it’s God’s power to overcome nothingness? I think I get it now. Potentiality describes a power of God, not a lack in God. It’s not a thing that exists alongside God/with God: it’s a thing that comes from God.

Hmm…I wonder if I could tell her that potentiality is a description of God’s overpowering relationship to nothingness…? @Wesrock and @Ghosty1981…would that be kinda accurate? It doesn’t exist and that’s the point?


I think that is a fresh way to put it. :slight_smile:

With regards to creation ex nihilo, I like the expression that God is so powerful that He can cause even nothingness to have potential.

EDIT: I recall a quote from somewhere, perhaps St. Augustine, about God creating man “nigh unto nothing”. I wish I could remember exactly where this comes from, but I will look it up. I believe it was in reference to creatures, with angels being nigh unto God, and man being nigh unto nothing, but I’m not sure. This discussion reminded me of that expression, however, with man being made in the image of God, but from physical matter which is closer to nothingness than the stuff of angels. Seems appropriate to what we’re talking about. :slight_smile:

I like the image of God showing his Power by utilizing crude matter (the closest thing to “pure potential” that can exist in itself) to create a being capable of receiving His Glory. Man is the crown of creation because we bridge spirit and matter in a special way; in our very nature we especially manifest the very power of God over nothingness.


I like the image of God showing his Power by utilizing crude matter (the closest thing to “pure potential” that can exist in itself) to create a being capable of receiving His Glory. Man is the crown of creation because we bridge spirit and matter in a special way; in our very nature we especially manifest the very power of God over nothingness.

This is beautiful, @Ghosty1981 :purple_heart: Thanks.

It makes even the incarnation a shuddering thought…Why would God do that?..Stoop so low…so near nothing? The story that the angels’ test and the consequent fall/rebelliousness of the fallen angels came from a glimpse of the incarnation then seems believable. Especially if Satan was at the top of that nigh-unto-God pile. It makes sense that pride was the sin that caused his fall, because even I almost feel revulsion thinking of God taking on this pile of nigh-unto-nothingness, even though I’m it, lol! Just because of all the thinking I’ve been doing on nothingness and beingness and potentiality. Christ is a crazy God-act and let’s not even mention the crucifixion…:zipper_mouth_face:


I was just thinking also, that if we say “potentiality” exists in any way, then it is no longer “potential”. Because then if it exists, it is at least being/doing something, and so cannot be pure potential.

So in fact, it seems that by definition, true, pure potentiality literally is impossible in reality because to be in reality it must first be real and then it’s no longer just potential, is it? It’s a concept in our minds, not a thing in reality; not a substance of any level of being.

Even when we say we are a mix of potentiality and actuality, I think we are confusing people like me because we make it seem like potentiality exists alongside actuality in me. So then if I’m asked, “where does it come from”? I’m left dumbfounded. Coz: where else can it come from but God? And if so, doesn’t it mean he had it already?

It seems like an overly complicated way to say,

“I am a thing that is currently coming into being out of nothingness” Essentially.

A “becoming” thing." Using potentiality as something “mixed” with actuality confuses us. :slightly_smiling_face:.

It just occurred to me: to claim God has potentiality at any level would also be to deny that being as beingness exists!—at least I think so. Because potentiality cannot be part of being, for being is being, not, not-yet-being:

So what then is potentiality? It seems we must locate it in nothingness, no? Since it’s what happens when Being plays with nothingness. It seems we might be using potentiality as a crude way of describing the deficit of “nothingness” left when you subtract creatures from (1) their intended final level of being/actuality or (2) from God! Again, super confusing. Kinda like saying,

“How much nothingnness exists now between you and all God intends for your being? Well, that’s all the stuff God could cause to be in YOU…potential!”"


“How much nothingness exists between you and infinite existence? Well, that’s all the stuff God could cause to be…potential!” Which then sounds like a thing that exists.

Which makes the state of Only-God (non-creation) the only true state of “pure potential”, i.e, the maximum level of “nothingness” there can be.

Maybe I’m still getting it twisted but this is what I will answer to monists from now on. Before, I only knew that God must be distinct from us and not actualizable himself from the arguments of his existence; but not why and monists make a very compelling case, IMO. I’m glad that I can now at least articulate for myself, why, logically, pure potentiality cannot be part of pure being.

See, I’ve recently started discussions on our distinctness and whether all reality is fractal/mathematically-describable…So these qs have been bugging me for weeks! :slightly_smiling_face:

Thank you so much for helping me, @Ghosty1981 and @Wesrock ! God bless!


So called pure potentiality is just a fancy way of saying: God is infinitely real. i.e the distance between God-power and nothingness is infinite. I will avoid using this “potential” language from now on. It’s just a different way of playing around with the concept of the duality of being-as-being and nothingness, as far as I can see; one pregnant with “potential” for misunderstanding :laughing:


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