QUESTION 25: THE POWER OF GOD
After considering the divine foreknowledge and will, and other things
pertaining thereto, it remains for us to consider the power of God. About
this are six points of inquiry:
(1) Whether there is power in God?
(2) Whether His power is infinite?
(3) Whether He is almighty?
(4) Whether He could make the past not to have been?
(5) Whether He could do what He does not, or not do what He does?
(6) Whether what He makes He could make better?
Article 1: Whether there is power in God?
Objection 1: It seems that power is not in God. For as primary matter is to
power, so God, who is the first agent, is to act. But primary matter,
considered in itself, is devoid of all act. Therefore, the first
agent---namely, God---is devoid of power.
Objection 2: Further, according to the Philosopher (Metaph. vi, 19), better than every power is its act. For form is better than matter; and action than active power, since it is its end. But nothing is better than what is in God; because whatsoever is in God, is God, as was shown above (Question , Article ). Therefore, there is no power in God.
Objection 3: Further, Power is the principle of operation. But the divine
power is God's essence, since there is nothing accidental in God: and of
the essence of God there is no principle. Therefore there is no power in
Objection 4: Further, it was shown above (Question , Article ; Question , Article ) that God's
knowledge and will are the cause of things. But the cause and principle
of a thing are identical. We ought not, therefore, to assign power to
God; but only knowledge and will.
On the contrary, It is said: "Thou art mighty, O Lord, and Thy truth is
round about Thee" (Ps. 88:9).
I answer that, Power is twofold---namely, passive, which exists not at
all in God; and active, which we must assign to Him in the highest
degree. For it is manifest that everything, according as it is in act and
is perfect, is the active principle of something: whereas everything is
passive according as it is deficient and imperfect. Now it was shown
above (Question , Article ; Question , Articles , 2), that God is pure act, simply and in
all ways perfect, nor in Him does any imperfection find place. Whence it
most fittingly belongs to Him to be an active principle, and in no way
whatsoever to be passive. On the other hand, the notion of active
principle is consistent with active power. For active power is the
principle of acting upon something else; whereas passive power is the
principle of being acted upon by something else, as the Philosopher says
(Metaph. v, 17). It remains, therefore, that in God there is active power
in the highest degree.
Reply to Objection 1: Active power is not contrary to act, but is founded upon
it, for everything acts according as it is actual: but passive power is
contrary to act; for a thing is passive according as it is potential.
Whence this potentiality is not in God, but only active power.
Reply to Objection 2: Whenever act is distinct from power, act must be nobler
than power. But God's action is not distinct from His power, for both are
His divine essence; neither is His existence distinct from His essence.
Hence it does not follow that there should be anything in God nobler than
Reply to Objection 3: In creatures, power is the principle not only of action,
but likewise of effect. Thus in God the idea of power is retained,
inasmuch as it is the principle of an effect; not, however, as it is a
principle of action, for this is the divine essence itself; except,
perchance, after our manner of understanding, inasmuch as the divine
essence, which pre-contains in itself all perfection that exists in
created things, can be understood either under the notion of action, or
under that of power; as also it is understood under the notion of
"suppositum" possessing nature, and under that of nature. Accordingly the
notion of power is retained in God in so far as it is the principle of an
Reply to Objection 4: Power is predicated of God not as something really distinct
from His knowledge and will, but as differing from them logically;
inasmuch as power implies a notion of a principle putting into execution
what the will commands, and what knowledge directs, which three things in
God are identified. Or we may say, that the knowledge or will of God,
according as it is the effective principle, has the notion of power
contained in it. Hence the consideration of the knowledge and will of God
precedes the consideration of His power, as the cause precedes the
operation and effect.
Article 2: Whether the power of God is infinite?
Objection 1: It seems that the power of God is not infinite. For everything
that is infinite is imperfect according to the Philosopher (Phys. iii,
6). But the power of God is far from imperfect. Therefore it is not
Objection 2: Further, every power is made known by its effect; otherwise it
would be ineffectual. If, then, the power of God were infinite, it could
produce an infinite effect, but this is impossible.
Objection 3: Further, the Philosopher proves (Phys. viii, 79) that if the
power of any corporeal thing were infinite, it would cause instantaneous
movement. God, however, does not cause instantaneous movement, but moves
the spiritual creature in time, and the corporeal creature in place and
time, as Augustine says (Gen. ad lit. 20,22,23). Therefore, His power is
On the contrary, Hilary says (De Trin. viii), that "God's power is
immeasurable. He is the living mighty one." Now everything that is
immeasurable is infinite. Therefore the power of God is infinite.
I answer that, As stated above (Article ), active power exists in God
according to the measure in which He is actual. Now His existence is
infinite, inasmuch as it is not limited by anything that receives it, as
is clear from what has been said, when we discussed the infinity of the
divine essence (Question , Article ). Wherefore, it is necessary that the active
power in God should be infinite. For in every agent is it found that the
more perfectly an agent has the form by which it acts the greater its
power to act. For instance, the hotter a thing is, the greater the power
has it to give heat; and it would have infinite power to give heat, were
its own heat infinite. Whence, since the divine essence, through which
God acts, is infinite, as was shown above (Question , Article ) it follows that
His power likewise is infinite.
Reply to Objection 1: The Philosopher is here speaking of an infinity in regard
to matter not limited by any form; and such infinity belongs to quantity.
But the divine essence is otherwise, as was shown above (Question , Article ); and
consequently so also His power. It does not follow, therefore, that it is
Reply to Objection 2: The power of a univocal agent is wholly manifested in its
effect. The generative power of man, for example, is not able to do more
than beget man. But the power of a non-univocal agent does not wholly
manifest itself in the production of its effect: as, for example, the
power of the sun does not wholly manifest itself in the production of an
animal generated from putrefaction. Now it is clear that God is not a
univocal agent. For nothing agrees with Him either in species or in
genus, as was shown above (Question , Article ; Question , Article ). Whence it follows
that His effect is always less than His power. It is not necessary,
therefore, that the infinite power of God should be manifested so as to
produce an infinite effect. Yet even if it were to produce no effect,
the power of God would not be ineffectual; because a thing is ineffectual
which is ordained towards an end to which it does not attain. But the
power of God is not ordered toward its effect as towards an end; rather,
it is the end of the effect produced by it.
Reply to Objection 3: The Philosopher (Phys. viii, 79) proves that if a body had
infinite power, it would cause a non-temporal movement. And he shows that
the power of the mover of heaven is infinite, because it can move in an
infinite time. It remains, therefore, according to his reckoning, that
the infinite power of a body, if such existed, would move without time;
not, however, the power of an incorporeal mover. The reason of this is
that one body moving another is a univocal agent; wherefore it follows
that the whole power of the agent is made known in its motion. Since then
the greater the power of a moving body, the more quickly does it move;
the necessary conclusion is that if its power were infinite, it would
move beyond comparison faster, and this is to move without time. An
incorporeal mover, however, is not a univocal agent; whence it is not
necessary that the whole of its power should be manifested in motion, so
as to move without time; and especially since it moves in accordance with
the disposition of its will.
Article 3: Whether God is omnipotent?
Objection 1: It seems that God is not omnipotent. For movement and passiveness
belong to everything. But this is impossible with God, for He is
immovable, as was said above (Question , Article ). Therefore He is not omnipotent.
Objection 2: Further, sin is an act of some kind. But God cannot sin, nor
"deny Himself" as it is said in 2 Tim. 2:13. Therefore He is not
Objection 3: Further, it is said of God that He manifests His omnipotence
"especially by sparing and having mercy" [*Collect, 10th Sunday after
Pentecost]. Therefore the greatest act possible to the divine power is to
spare and have mercy. There are things much greater, however, than
sparing and having mercy; for example, to create another world, and the
like. Therefore God is not omnipotent.
Objection 4: Further, upon the text, "God hath made foolish the wisdom of this
world" (1 Cor. 1:20), a gloss says: "God hath made the wisdom of this
world foolish [*Vulg.: 'Hath not God', etc.] by showing those things to
be possible which it judges to be impossible." Whence it would seem that
nothing is to be judged possible or impossible in reference to inferior
causes, as the wisdom of this world judges them; but in reference to the
divine power. If God, then, were omnipotent, all things would be
possible; nothing, therefore impossible. But if we take away the
impossible, then we destroy also the necessary; for what necessarily
exists is impossible not to exist. Therefore there would be nothing at
all that is necessary in things if God were omnipotent. But this is an
impossibility. Therefore God is not omnipotent.
On the contrary, It is said: "No word shall be impossible with God" (Lk. 1:37).
I answer that, All confess that God is omnipotent; but it seems
difficult to explain in what His omnipotence precisely consists: for
there may be doubt as to the precise meaning of the word 'all' when we
say that God can do all things. If, however, we consider the matter
aright, since power is said in reference to possible things, this phrase,
"God can do all things," is rightly understood to mean that God can do
all things that are possible; and for this reason He is said to be
omnipotent. Now according to the Philosopher (Metaph. v, 17), a thing is
said to be possible in two ways. First in relation to some power, thus
whatever is subject to human power is said to be possible to man.
Secondly absolutely, on account of the relation in which the very terms
stand to each other. Now God cannot be said to be omnipotent through
being able to do all things that are possible to created nature; for the
divine power extends farther than that. If, however, we were to say that
God is omnipotent because He can do all things that are possible to His
power, there would be a vicious circle in explaining the nature of His
power. For this would be saying nothing else but that God is omnipotent,
because He can do all that He is able to do.
It remains therefore, that God is called omnipotent because He can do
all things that are possible absolutely; which is the second way of
saying a thing is possible. For a thing is said to be possible or
impossible absolutely, according to the relation in which the very terms
stand to one another, possible if the predicate is not incompatible with
the subject, as that Socrates sits; and absolutely impossible when the
predicate is altogether incompatible with the subject, as, for instance,
that a man is a donkey.
It must, however, be remembered that since every agent produces an
effect like itself, to each active power there corresponds a thing
possible as its proper object according to the nature of that act on
which its active power is founded; for instance, the power of giving
warmth is related as to its proper object to the being capable of being
warmed. The divine existence, however, upon which the nature of power in
God is founded, is infinite, and is not limited to any genus of being;
but possesses within itself the perfection of all being. Whence,
whatsoever has or can have the nature of being, is numbered among the
absolutely possible things, in respect of which God is called omnipotent.
Now nothing is opposed to the idea of being except non-being. Therefore,
that which implies being and non-being at the same time is repugnant to
the idea of an absolutely possible thing, within the scope of the divine
omnipotence. For such cannot come under the divine omnipotence, not
because of any defect in the power of God, but because it has not the
nature of a feasible or possible thing. Therefore, everything that does
not imply a contradiction in terms, is numbered amongst those possible
things, in respect of which God is called omnipotent: whereas whatever
implies contradiction does not come within the scope of divine
omnipotence, because it cannot have the aspect of possibility. Hence it
is better to say that such things cannot be done, than that God cannot do
them. Nor is this contrary to the word of the angel, saying: "No word
shall be impossible with God." For whatever implies a contradiction
cannot be a word, because no intellect can possibly conceive such a thing.
Reply to Objection 1: God is said to be omnipotent in respect to His active
power, not to passive power, as was shown above (Article ). Whence the fact
that He is immovable or impassible is not repugnant to His omnipotence.
Reply to Objection 2: To sin is to fall short of a perfect action; hence to be
able to sin is to be able to fall short in action, which is repugnant to
omnipotence. Therefore it is that God cannot sin, because of His
omnipotence. Nevertheless, the Philosopher says (Topic. iv, 3) that God
can deliberately do what is evil. But this must be understood either on a
condition, the antecedent of which is impossible---as, for instance, if
we were to say that God can do evil things if He will. For there is no
reason why a conditional proposition should not be true, though both the
antecedent and consequent are impossible: as if one were to say: "If man
is a donkey, he has four feet." Or he may be understood to mean that God
can do some things which now seem to be evil: which, however, if He did
them, would then be good. Or he is, perhaps, speaking after the common
manner of the heathen, who thought that men became gods, like Jupiter or
Reply to Objection 3: God's omnipotence is particularly shown in sparing and
having mercy, because in this is it made manifest that God has supreme
power, that He freely forgives sins. For it is not for one who is bound
by laws of a superior to forgive sins of his own free will. Or, because
by sparing and having mercy upon men, He leads them on to the
participation of an infinite good; which is the ultimate effect of the
divine power. Or because, as was said above (Question , Article ), the effect of
the divine mercy is the foundation of all the divine works. For nothing
is due to anyone, except on account of something already given him
gratuitously by God. In this way the divine omnipotence is particularly
made manifest, because to it pertains the first foundation of all good
Reply to Objection 4: The absolute possible is not so called in reference either
to higher causes, or to inferior causes, but in reference to itself. But
the possible in reference to some power is named possible in reference to
its proximate cause. Hence those things which it belongs to God alone to
do immediately---as, for example, to create, to justify, and the
like---are said to be possible in reference to a higher cause. Those
things, however, which are of such kind as to be done by inferior causes
are said to be possible in reference to those inferior causes. For it is
according to the condition of the proximate cause that the effect has
contingency or necessity, as was shown above (Question , Article , ad 2). Thus is
it that the wisdom of the world is deemed foolish, because what is
impossible to nature, it judges to be impossible to God. So it is clear
that the omnipotence of God does not take away from things their
impossibility and necessity.
Article 4: Whether God can make the past not to have been?
Objection 1: It seems that God can make the past not to have been. For what is
impossible in itself is much more impossible than that which is only
impossible accidentally. But God can do what is impossible in itself, as
to give sight to the blind, or to raise the dead. Therefore, and much
more can He do what is only impossible accidentally. Now for the past not
to have been is impossible accidentally: thus for Socrates not to be
running is accidentally impossible, from the fact that his running is a
thing of the past. Therefore God can make the past not to have been.
Objection 2: Further, what God could do, He can do now, since His power is not
lessened. But God could have effected, before Socrates ran, that he
should not run. Therefore, when he has run, God could effect that he did
Objection 3: Further, charity is a more excellent virtue than virginity. But
God can supply charity that is lost; therefore also lost virginity.
Therefore He can so effect that what was corrupt should not have been
On the contrary, Jerome says (Ep. 22 ad Eustoch.): "Although God can do
all things, He cannot make a thing that is corrupt not to have been
corrupted." Therefore, for the same reason, He cannot effect that
anything else which is past should not have been.
I answer that, As was said above (Question , Article ), there does not fall under
the scope of God's omnipotence anything that implies a contradiction. Now
that the past should not have been implies a contradiction. For as it
implies a contradiction to say that Socrates is sitting, and is not
sitting, so does it to say that he sat, and did not sit. But to say that
he did sit is to say that it happened in the past. To say that he did not
sit, is to say that it did not happen. Whence, that the past should not
have been, does not come under the scope of divine power. This is what
Augustine means when he says (Contra Faust. xxix, 5): "Whosoever says, If
God is almighty, let Him make what is done as if it were not done, does
not see that this is to say: If God is almighty let Him effect that what
is true, by the very fact that it is true, be false": and the Philosopher
says (Ethic. vi, 2): "Of this one thing alone is God deprived---namely,
to make undone the things that have been done."
Reply to Objection 1: Although it is impossible accidentally for the past not to
have been, if one considers the past thing itself, as, for instance, the
running of Socrates; nevertheless, if the past thing is considered as
past, that it should not have been is impossible, not only in itself,
but absolutely since it implies a contradiction. Thus, it is more
impossible than the raising of the dead; in which there is nothing
contradictory, because this is reckoned impossible in reference to some
power, that is to say, some natural power; for such impossible things do
come beneath the scope of divine power.
Reply to Objection 2: As God, in accordance with the perfection of the divine
power, can do all things, and yet some things are not subject to His
power, because they fall short of being possible; so, also, if we regard
the immutability of the divine power, whatever God could do, He can do
now. Some things, however, at one time were in the nature of possibility,
whilst they were yet to be done, which now fall short of the nature of
possibility, when they have been done. So is God said not to be able to
do them, because they themselves cannot be done.
Reply to Objection 3: God can remove all corruption of the mind and body from a
woman who has fallen; but the fact that she had been corrupt cannot be
removed from her; as also is it impossible that the fact of having sinned
or having lost charity thereby can be removed from the sinner.
Article 5: Whether God can do what He does not?
Objection 1: It seems that God cannot do other than what He does. For God
cannot do what He has not foreknown and pre-ordained that He would do.
But He neither foreknew nor pre-ordained that He would do anything except
what He does. Therefore He cannot do except what He does.
Objection 2: Further, God can only do what ought to be done and what is right
to be done. But God is not bound to do what He does not; nor is it right
that He should do what He does not. Therefore He cannot do except what He
Objection 3: Further, God cannot do anything that is not good and befitting
creation. But it is not good for creatures nor befitting them to be
otherwise than as they are. Therefore God cannot do except what He does.
On the contrary, It is said: "Thinkest thou that I cannot ask My Father,
and He will give Me presently more than twelve legions of angels?" (Mt. 26:53). But He neither asked for them, nor did His Father show them to
refute the Jews. Therefore God can do what He does not.
I answer that, In this matter certain persons erred in two ways. Some
laid it down that God acts from natural necessity in such way that as
from the action of nature nothing else can happen beyond what actually
takes place---as, for instance, from the seed of man, a man must come,
and from that of an olive, an olive; so from the divine operation there
could not result other things, nor another order of things, than that
which now is. But we showed above (Question , Article ) that God does not act
from natural necessity, but that His will is the cause of all things; nor
is that will naturally and from any necessity determined to those things.
Whence in no way at all is the present course of events produced by God
from any necessity, so that other things could not happen. Others,
however, said that the divine power is restricted to this present course
of events through the order of the divine wisdom and justice without
which God does nothing. But since the power of God, which is His essence,
is nothing else but His wisdom, it can indeed be fittingly said that
there is nothing in the divine power which is not in the order of the
divine wisdom; for the divine wisdom includes the whole potency of the
divine power. Yet the order placed in creation by divine wisdom, in which
order the notion of His justice consists, as said above (Question , Article ), is
not so adequate to the divine wisdom that the divine wisdom should be
restricted to this present order of things. Now it is clear that the
whole idea of order which a wise man puts into things made by him is
taken from their end. So, when the end is proportionate to the things
made for that end, the wisdom of the maker is restricted to some definite
order. But the divine goodness is an end exceeding beyond all proportion
things created. Whence the divine wisdom is not so restricted to any
particular order that no other course of events could happen. Wherefore
we must simply say that God can do other things than those He has done.
Reply to Objection 1: In ourselves, in whom power and essence are distinct from
will and intellect, and again intellect from wisdom, and will from
justice, there can be something in the power which is not in the just
will nor in the wise intellect. But in God, power and essence, will and
intellect, wisdom and justice, are one and the same. Whence, there can be
nothing in the divine power which cannot also be in His just will or in
His wise intellect. Nevertheless, because His will cannot be determined
from necessity to this or that order of things, except upon supposition,
as was said above (Question , Article ), neither are the wisdom and justice of
God restricted to this present order, as was shown above; so nothing
prevents there being something in the divine power which He does not
will, and which is not included in the order which He has place in
things. Again, because power is considered as executing, the will as
commanding, and the intellect and wisdom as directing; what is attributed
to His power considered in itself, God is said to be able to do in
accordance with His absolute power. Of such a kind is everything which
has the nature of being, as was said above (Article ). What is, however,
attributed to the divine power, according as it carries into execution
the command of a just will, God is said to be able to do by His ordinary
power. In this manner, we must say that God can do other things by His
absolute power than those He has foreknown and pre-ordained He would do.
But it could not happen that He should do anything which He had not
foreknown, and had not pre-ordained that He would do, because His actual
doing is subject to His foreknowledge and pre-ordination, though His
power, which is His nature, is not so. For God does things because He
wills so to do; yet the power to do them does not come from His will, but
from His nature.
Reply to Objection 2: God is bound to nobody but Himself. Hence, when it is said
that God can only do what He ought, nothing else is meant by this than
that God can do nothing but what is befitting to Himself, and just. But
these words "befitting" and "just" may be understood in two ways: one, in
direct connection with the verb "is"; and thus they would be restricted
to the present order of things; and would concern His power. Then what is
said in the objection is false; for the sense is that God can do nothing
except what is now fitting and just. If, however, they be joined directly
with the verb "can" (which has the effect of extending the meaning), and
then secondly with "is," the present will be signified, but in a confused
and general way. The sentence would then be true in this sense: "God
cannot do anything except that which, if He did it, would be suitable and
Reply to Objection 3: Although this order of things be restricted to what now
exists, the divine power and wisdom are not thus restricted. Whence,
although no other order would be suitable and good to the things which
now are, yet God can do other things and impose upon them another order.
Article 6: Whether God can do better than what He does?
Objection 1: It seems that God cannot do better than He does. For whatever God
does, He does in a most powerful and wise way. But a thing is so much the
better done as it is more powerfully and wisely done. Therefore God
cannot do anything better than He does.
Objection 2: Further, Augustine thus argues (Contra Maximin. iii, 8): "If God
could, but would not, beget a Son His equal, He would have been envious."
For the same reason, if God could have made better things than He has
done, but was not willing so to do, He would have been envious. But envy
is far removed from God. Therefore God makes everything of the best. He
cannot therefore make anything better than He does.
Objection 3: Further, what is very good and the best of all cannot be
bettered; because nothing is better than the best. But as Augustine says
(Enchiridion 10), "each thing that God has made is good, and, taken all
together they are very good; because in them all consists the wondrous
beauty of the universe." Therefore the good in the universe could not be
made better by God.
Objection 4: Further, Christ as man is full of grace and truth, and has the
Spirit without measure; and so He cannot be better. Again created
happiness is described as the highest good, and thus cannot be better.
And the Blessed Virgin Mary is raised above all the choirs of angels, and
so cannot be better than she is. God cannot therefore make all things
better than He has made them.
On the contrary, It is said (Eph. 3:20): "God is able to do all things
more abundantly than we desire or understand."
I answer that, The goodness of anything is twofold; one, which is of the
essence of it---thus, for instance, to be rational pertains to the
essence of man. As regards this good, God cannot make a thing better than
it is itself; although He can make another thing better than it; even as
He cannot make the number four greater than it is; because if it were
greater it would no longer be four, but another number. For the addition
of a substantial difference in definitions is after the manner of the
addition of unity of numbers (Metaph. viii, 10). Another kind of goodness
is that which is over and above the essence; thus, the good of a man is
to be virtuous or wise. As regards this kind of goodness, God can make
better the things He has made. Absolutely speaking, however, God can make
something else better than each thing made by Him.
Reply to Objection 1: When it is said that God can make a thing better than He
makes it, if "better" is taken substantively, this proposition is true.
For He can always make something else better than each individual thing:
and He can make the same thing in one way better than it is, and in
another way not; as was explained above. If, however, "better" is taken
as an adverb, implying the manner of the making; thus God cannot make
anything better than He makes it, because He cannot make it from greater
wisdom and goodness. But if it implies the manner of the thing done, He
can make something better; because He can give to things made by Him a
better manner of existence as regards the accidents, although not as
regards the substance.
Reply to Objection 2: It is of the nature of a son that he should be equal to his
father, when he comes to maturity. But it is not of the nature of
anything created, that it should be better than it was made by God. Hence
the comparison fails.
Reply to Objection 3: The universe, the present creation being supposed, cannot
be better, on account of the most beautiful order given to things by God;
in which the good of the universe consists. For if any one thing were
bettered, the proportion of order would be destroyed; as if one string
were stretched more than it ought to be, the melody of the harp would be
destroyed. Yet God could make other things, or add something to the
present creation; and then there would be another and a better universe.
Reply to Objection 4: The humanity of Christ, from the fact that it is united to
the Godhead; and created happiness from the fact that it is the fruition
of God; and the Blessed Virgin from the fact that she is the mother of
God; have all a certain infinite dignity from the infinite good, which is
God. And on this account there cannot be anything better than these; just
as there cannot be anything better than God.