By Fr. Raymond


After studying the static aspect of being (internal and external division of being), we must face the dynamic aspect of being : the vision of being seen not in itself but in relation with others. This mutual influence of beings is exercised by causality. The diverse beings we analysed need to be studied in the real state of synthesis, since they not only have a universal and common essence in the mind, they are also in real communication.

            The study of the 4 aspects of causality gives a vision of the order of the world which is completed by the study of the ultimate Cause of the universe and His relation with the second causes.



   The Knowledge of Real Causality


I. existence : the experience of causality


The notions of cause and effect recur all the time in human existence and thought : activity and passivity are found everywhere, the sun warms, man builds a chair. Practical and scientific life[1] presuppose the existence of relations of dependence known by :

1)   external experience : mutual influence of things (2 billiard balls) which is more than mere temporal succession of day after night or of the seasons (caused really by motion of planets).

2)   internal experience : I cause the motion of my hand at will (the hand motion is imperated by will).

3)   interno-external exp. : I act on this ball, I teach these students, I am burnt by the fire, motivated by the milieu.

So far, we have been speaking of the efficient cause, but there are other ways of causing, ‘influencing the being of something’, like the final cause : we work for a particular motive, e.g. to become a good soccer player...

Such an experience is a self evident truth per se nota, and has no need of demonstration. It is grounded on being which can cause or act because it is. We perceive clearly the existence of the cause, but this does not mean that we have a perfect science of the cause : it is a profound reality (like in the case of being, self-evident notion), the knowledge of which cannot be exhausted by our limited intellect.


ii. the principle of causality


            1) mutual relation


- Logically speaking, one notion implies necessarily the other (cause-effect).

- Ontologically however, if an effect (real) has always a real relation with its cause, a cause does not have necessarily a real relation with its effect (God, author of creation).

            2) formulations


Generically, all the following formulae express that an effect requires a causal foundation. Omnis forma pendet a causa.

1)   Everything which begins has a cause : (for things which begin to exist). What does not have an act cannot give it to itself[2] : most clear in the substantial generation (nemo dat quod non habet; nihil causa sui). Yet it is the more universal formulation as it allows even for the creation ab aeterno.

2)   Quidquid movetur ab alio movetur : first formulation of Ar. Said more generically, the potency passing to act (def. of movement) cannot give itself  such an act. Hence, the first mover is Pure Act (1ª via).

3)   The contingent being requires a cause : contingent means capacity to cease to exist (corruptibility, potency).Whatever is indifferent as to be or not be, and in fact is, needs a cause of its being in act (3ª via).

4)   Whatever something has and  does not have it by essence is caused.[3] It signifies that a contingent existence, which belongs to a being and does not come from the essence itself, must be caused externally.

5)   Whatever has being by participation is caused by that which is being by essence: participans causatur ab eo quod est per essentiam.


            3) Corollaries :


1)   nihil causa sui : (cause must be prior to the act or effect). The cause transcends the effect.

2)   Causa potior effectu :the cause is required to give reason of the origin of a perfection in a being which by itself does not have it. If the cause did not have this perfection, it would not be cause.[4]


            4) importance of the principle


1)   It is posterior to the principle of non-contradiction, since the cause presupposes being and not vice-versa (God is not caused, and did not need to cause[5]).

1)   it is proper for a creature to be caused : not as a being (ens) but as a being imperfect & contingent. Causality does not flow from the notion of being but from the imperfection of the created being.

2)   The pple of causality is the access to God’s existence,[6] first Cause (the 5 ways of proving God’s ex. are based on causality).



iii. notion and division.


            1) properties


Cause : omne quod influit esse rei. The effect is dependent on the cause. Thus, causality requires :

1)   effective dependence in being: in such a way that the effect cannot begin to exist or subsist wo it.

2)   real distinction : betw. cause and effect due to the real dependence.

3)   priority of cause over effect :

A) of nature : the perfection caused in the effect must pre-exist in the cause.

B) of time : frequently, yet not always.[7]

C) of the action of causality : correlative and simultaneous (action and passion).

            2) distinct from :


1)   Principle : Id a quo aliquid procedit quocumque modo. Every cause is a principle, not ev. principle is cause since principle expresses beginning and order, not ncssly a positive influence in the being. E.g. in Theology, the Father is the principle, but not the cause, of the Son; privation is a principle (negative) of acquisition of a new act/perfection; one is pple of all numbers.

2)   Condition : the disposition required for the exercise of causality. It renders possible the action of a cause, yet doesn’t have proper causality. The condition can be convenient,[8] necessary (sine qua non), necessary and sufficient.

3)   Occasion : its presence favours the action of the cause. But it is not absolutely necessary (it has no positive influence on the cause as such).[9]

            3) division of the cause


Causa per se acts

re. intrinsic principles

materia : C. Materialis[10]

over the effect which


forma : C. Formalis[11]

depends on the cause

re. extrinsic principles

productor : C. Efficiens[12]



motive : C. Finalis[13]


united to a cause per se

which has no influence on it[14]



as first cause of a 2ry


- removens prohibens[16]

- 2ry chance effect

-temporal succession (apparent cs)




   Material and Formal Cause


            This is mostly a repetition of what was seen in cosmology and seen again speaking of the ontological structure of being (act and potency; pure essences, and material essences).


I. material cause


1)           Definition : ‘ex qua aliquid fit cum insit.’ Arist. : ‘That out of which something is made as existing in it.’

2)           Characteristics :

A) passive potential principle : pple (as any of  the causes), passive and potential because it contains the effect as the potency contains the cause, as mere capacity.

B) permanent : by its potency, it is the receptive subject of the form (intrsc pple).

C) indetermination : as a potency it is undetermined and apertum ad plures formas. Forma determinat ens ad unum.

3)           Division :

A) Materia Prima : material cause in the perfect sense : permanent subject of all changes (accdtl and substantial), pure passive potency, ttly undetermined. It is principle and cause of all bodies. Only God can cause wo a material cause (i.e. by creation : productio ex nihilo sui et subjecti).

B) Materia Secunda : it is the substance, capable of receiving further accidental determinations.

C) any accident which is subject of another : improperly said materia : e.g. the intellect is subject of  the various intellectual habits.


ii. Formal cause


Prior to any philo. reflexion, we know what is the formal cause : what makes a being be what it is, ‘quarum una est ipsa causa formalis, quae est ipsa substantia rei per quam scitur quid est unaquaeque res’ (any entity, even stg accidental).

            Plato saw the forms as principles extrinsic to the sensible things, which the latter only imitate. He could not explain the becoming of things nor their unity. Ar. understood that the essential forms are present in the things, and constitute their determination and fundamental actuality, which he called evntele,cia( evne,rgeia . He used also the words morfh,( eiv,.doj , the latter taken as intrinsic form of things.

            We call it form bec. the simplest way in common life to recognise things and people is to see the surface, the shape, the volume, the form which limit or terminate them, thereby distinguishing them. Artificial objects are determined by their visible external shape (key, chair), losing their form, they cease to be a key or chair : hence the elementary idea that the form  makes things be : forma dat esse. Natural beings, and part. those whose shapes vary a lot (tadpole becoming frog, foetus-adult, solid-liquid-gas state) show us that being does not come from the tangible and visible form : we think then that what determines being may be beyond the sensible, and thus we distinguish betw. the accidental (visible) form and the substantial form. Also the receptive capacities (operative powers..., qualities) can be called forms even wo visible shape. In that case, we may argue against the use of the term ‘form’ to designate them, we cannot argue against the reality which the term ‘form’ designates.


1)           Definition :

A) Intrinsic perfection by which a thing is what it is either substantially or accidentally. ‘id quo res est id quod est’, ‘id quo unumquodque sortitur suam speciem’, ‘ratio quiddidatis rei’.

B) as a determining principle, the form gives identity to each being. The doctrine of the forms is not a system a priori : it is the minimum requested to think coherently that there are beings and that they are not anything.


2)           Division :

A) Substantial form : is the form wo which the being would not be. It gives being its fundamental mode of existence. It is the act of prime Matter.

B) Accidental form : determines a being already actuated and substantial. It is the act of 2ry Matter.


3)           Order of realisation :

A) in the essential order :

a) physical form (subst or accidental) form of each being as such,

b) intentional form which renders present in the knower the form of the object known.

B) in the existential order : existence can be called ‘form’ (God is pure Form says ST), yet it is improperly so because the form gives being only in so far as it is the measure -‘ratio’- of esse.


4)           Exemplary cause[17] :

A) Nature ‘Forma quam aliquid imitatur ex intentione agentis qui determinat sibi finem.’[18]

a) names : idea (Gr.), forma, species, ‘ratio rei faciendi’ (Lat.), ideal, plan, type, schema, project (moderns), exemplary idea.[19]

b) An idea is exemplar when it is capable of regulating the action of the artist or craftsman.

   It is a true cause since it determines the activity of the agent and influences the thing made.

B) It has stg of the causa :

a) finalis : the exemplary cs is the end (good) which the agent tries to reproduce.

b) efficiens : since it directs the action of the agent,

c) per se formalis : it is mostly a causa formalis extrinseca since the exemplary cause makes the effect be what it is, with such a nature.



iii. mutual causality betw. matter and form


1)           Causality in general :

A) Both can be termed cause because like the cause, they give the reason for a thing’s being and define it.[20] Before some unknown thing, you always ask : ‘what is this?’; ‘What is it made of?’

B) Both exercise such causality not on the outset but betw. each other : they do not act upon each other as they are not two pre-existing beings[21], but they do communicate mutually their entity:

Matter is cause of the form in so far as the form does not exist except IN the matter.[22]

Form is cause of matter      in so far as the matter does not exist except BY the form.


2)           Materia Iª and S.Form :

A) Form causes matter by determining it specifically and by making both exist since form gives being to the composite.

B) Matter causes form by sustaining the being of the form.

C) Consequence : Matter is by and for the form. Thus : no matter without form, but form can be without Matter .


3)           Substance and Accidtl forms.


A) Accidental forms determine accidentally the subst, but do not give it its being.

B) Substance is the support of the accdtl forms and gives them being.

C) Consequence : the secundary is for the principal, so also Materia Iª is for the S.Form, and accidental form is for the Substance (Mat. IIª).






 The Efficient Cause


I. historical sketch


1)           Ar. saw how the Ancients sought a cause of motion and fieri which they put inside the beings but in fact  pointed to an external cause.[23] He calls it: “the principle which firstly causes motion and rest.”

2)           Ar. doesn’t tell us that some texts of Plato led him to the discovery of the efficient cs :

A) from Phedo : the orderly change which leads to the order in the world must have for cause an Intellect capable of choosing what is best. (In the Republic VI : he argues that such intelligibility comes from the Good, cause of being).

B) From the Philebe : whatever exists is composed of Limit and Unlimitation, but that conjugal union of the 2 elements needs a cause : “See, if you do not judge necessary that all that is born is born by the action of a cause”(26e).

C) from the Timea : “whatever is born is born necessarily by the action of a cause, since it is impossible that anything be born wo cause” (28a). The Good of the Republic (pure formal cause) becomes the efficient Worker (= Demiurge).[24]


3)           Avicenna remarks that the causa movens of Ar. doesn’t explain the origin of the esse of beings. St. Albert Gr. underlines the ncssty of a cause of esse which is not a formal cause, but effct cause (5th cause which, accdg to the thesis condemned by Tempier in 1277, is only metaphorically called cause  in God).


4)           ST uses Avicenna to broaden the def. of Ar. from motus to permutatio : so as to give way to the metaph. causality which is the creation of esse, causality which as such implies no change (In V Metaph 2, n.765 : “principium permutationis et quietis”).


5)           Occasionalism

A) It is a fruit of the cartesian theory : the clear idea of extension includes only a passive principle, that of substance includes none of its modes, those of soul and body show nothing that could pass from the first to the second.

B) Duration for Descartes is discontinuous (the present time does not depend on the previous one).[25]

C) Malebranche explicitly terminates in occasionalism : “If we consider the idea of cause or of the power of acting, we cannot doubt that this idea represents something divine...” This is because the true cause is a cause producing necessarily its effect, and this necessity comes from an infinitely powerful will. Thus, to admit w. Aristotle the efficacy of causes is to be polytheist, whereas on the contrary, Christianism rests upon the impotence of creatures.


ii. Nature


1)           Def.

A) in genere : Id quod actione sua rem producit in esse (it makes stg be or be in such a way).

B) Causa movens : The corporeal cause is a ‘causa movens materiam’ out of which it educes the form  : by its movement or activity, it makes the matter receive its form.[26] Any created cause needs to act upon a subject or real potency (at least Materia Iª), only God can produce the totality of the effect (I 45,5).

2)           Properties :

A) The efficient cause is extrinsic or exterior to the effect: it produces a being other than its own

B) It communicates its proper perfection : the efficient cause transmits to the passive subject the perfection it has in act  : Omne agens agit in quantum est actu.

C) The effect must pre-exist in some way in its cause (in same degree or in a more eminent form):

a) omne agens agit sibi simile (a natural agent produces an effect similar according to its nature, the int. agent produces the effect similar to its exemplary idea).

b) omne agens agit per formam (bec. the form is in act). Man thinks bec. he has a spiritual soul (subst. form) gifted w int. and will, he reasons w. the science of logic (accidental form).

D) Union of eff. cause w. effect. Actio in distans simpliciter accepta repugnat : the agent must be united really to the subject in order to educe the form from its potency. This presence must be :

a) either actual (immediate presence of the substance)

b) or virtual (immediate presence of the virtue or power of action, when the substance is remote but the presence is felt through intermediaries).[27]


3)           Division according to :

A) similarity :

a) causa aequivoca has a diffrt essence than its effect, can still be cause of the essence of the effect.

b) Causa univoca is of the same nat. as its effect : since nothing can cause itself formally, this cause produces not the specific essence but the individual being.[28]

B) proportion betw. cs and effect :

a) cs. instrumentalis (produces the effect not by itself but by the power which it receives transitorily from the cs principalis which imposes on it the vis instrumentaria). The instruments are natural (paintbrush, organs, tools, phantasms) or sn (sacramental signs are instruments of grace).

b) The cs. principalis is divided into cs. 1ª and cs 2ª (they depend on God as to their esse and action, yet they act by their own power). The being and operation of things exist in and by God “et hoc modo etiam oportet dicere quod Deus est causa omnis actionis rei naturalis” (De pot q.3, a.7). If God gives the being of things, which is the most intrinsic in them, God’s causality is distinct from an extrinsic action which creatures exercise upon another. A cause penetrates with more facility into its effect if it is superior and more powerful. Whereas the created cause produces an effect limited as such (causa essendi tale), God acts more profoundly and gives the esse itself (causa essendi simpliciter SCG II 21). His causality is uncaused, universal, causing and conserving the esse of things.

C) proximity : cs proxima (in immediate contact w. the effect) and remota.

D) intensity : cs. totalis et partialis (together w. other causes : 4 engines move one aeroplane).

E) extension : cs. universalis et cs. particularis (produces individual effects in the universe). The universe is a world in which things are ordered to one another and attain together their end (cf. origin of life and existence depend on so many conditions). The sole union of mat. things (as planets) would never unite the extremely complex conditions necessary for the production of life unless they were moved and directed for that purpose by God. Matter and cosmic energy are thus the instruments of God, even if they preserve their proper activity. The more perfect the cause is, the greater is its operative virtue and more extended.

F) efficacy : cs. physica et cs. moralis (influences a human being to produce such or such act : advice).

G) Necessity re. the effect: cs. contingent (corporal : comes from the matter which weakens the form, or indisposes to receive it), cs. necessary. Hence the natural efficiency of the material substance is contingent, whereas that of the spiritual substance is indefectible.

H) necessity re. the cause : cause determined or free (which causes according to ideal forms, not determined ‘ad unum’) : knowing a free cause will not suffice to foresee the effects.





iii. the operation (exercise of causality)


1)           Existence

A) The efficient cause becomes efficient not by what it is but by its operation, stg added to its substance. The efficiency is produced by a principle intrinsic to the cause, the accident action, which in turn needs another accident, the active potency.

B) Action or activity is essential to beings since through it, creatures reach their end, inter-relate and ordain themselves to each other, and perfect each other. Thus a creature is more perfect when it is active. God not only has activity, He is His own activity.


2)           There are two ways of acting : 

A) transitive action : produces stg in an external substance which it perfects (action, poi,hsij, to make, to produce).

a) Such action comes out of —‘exit’— the agent and passes —‘transit’ — into an exterior matter producing in it a ‘passio.’[29] Sometimes ST calls such an action ‘factio’. It is properly the accident action.

b) The origin or effict cause of the action is the entire supposit and not only the nature or the form : Actiones sunt suppositorum.

c) What is the subject of such an accident? Ar. says that the eff. cause is nothing but ‘the source of change’, which change exists only in what is in potency to change. The entire action of the fire is that it is the source of change of water from cold to hot (which takes places exclusively in the water): originally in the agent, the subject of action is the patient. ‘Actio est in passo’ (‘from this one to that one’, says Ar.).

B) immanent action : Such action remains in the subject which is perfected because it terminates in the agent[30] (called properly operation, pra/xij,  agere, to do). Such operations belong to the predicament quality (since they perfect the agent), and to the species of potentia (since they are the necessary perfection which defines the corresponding passive potency, e.g. intellection, willing, sensation).


3)           Proximate principles

A) The immediate principles of operation are the operative faculties (potencies) which receive their power from the substantial form.

a) S form cannot be the immediate principle of action since it is one and the powers are multiple, since it is always in act, and the operative faculties aren’t (77 1).

b) Each substance has various capacities of operation.

c) Such operative potencies, though distinct from the essence, emanate from it.

d) They are ordained between themselves and influence each other.

B) Both the operative potencies and the operations are accidents : they belong to the substance, but are not the substance (in God alone, agere = esse= Actus Purus).





 Final Causality


 I. historical sketch


1)           Anaxagoras places the Intellect as the cause of all the movement which leads to the cosmic organisation and order.

2)           Aristotle clarifies what was only implicit in his predecessors, distinguishing from the efficient cause “the 4th cause, ‘that in view of what’ and the good, these are the end of the becoming and of any movement.” Distinct but not separate cause : “Three of them cover the same thing many times : the ‘what it is’ and ‘that for which it is’ are one, and that from which motion comes firstly is specifically identical.”[31]

3)           Ar. criticises the mechanicist theory based on the self sufficiency of the eff. cause : rain is explained by the condensation of air, not because it is for the harvest.[32]


4)            Against the chance theory of Empedocles,[33] Ar. argues that:[34]

we cannot attribute constant phenomena only to chance.

the development of a living being is ordered to an end, and is the result of nat. processes founded on the essence : this is the essence ordered to an end.

man imitates nature, and man acts for an end always. Ergo so it is in nature.

certain animals place actions which have an end (bees and ants).


5)           Many scientists (from Descartes’ time) refuse to take finality into account. For the atomist physicists and chemists, there is neither room for the final cause nor argument agst it either. Yet the good observer has the evidence of the finality in the world, in living beings + in the inorganic world.


6)           Others caricature finality :


A) They make of it an efficient cause acting from the future back into the present beings before it be realised by them.

B) How can stg determine an action when is not yet realised?  In man, it is present in int and will, and acts as an immobile mover. For irrational beings, finality is put in by another int. which has ordered their actions toward an end, starting point of the proof by finality of the ex. of God.[35]


7)           Others caricature finality as anthropomorphism (all agents act intentionally like man). See reply of Ar. in # II.



ii. existence.


1)           Def. : Id cuius gratia aliquid fit, that for which the agent starts acting.

2)           Existence :

A) in Man : the final causality is the expression of what is present in his cognitive and appetitive faculties : by his knowl. and will, man gives himself a form which is the starting point of his action. The effect produced corresponds to the end he assigns himself. As other agents, man acts for an end : omne agens agit propter finem. Otherwise, the agent would act wo determination, wo content, and would no more act than not act, do this than do that (I II 1,2). Had we not chosen a precise end, we wouldn’t have posed this action rather than that one. There is a real causal influence of the end over our h. actions.[36]

B) In other beings we must show that all activities are ordered to an end :

a) living beings act in the same way in various circumstances across the many generations : there must be a pre-established direction of their activity. Millions of biological processes occur for the same perfect equilibrium to obtain this particular organ or living being : all this would be impossible if all was not ordered to this part. end.

b) in the inorganic nature, there is no proper activity, yet the entire universe cooperates in the realisation of complex conditions for the genesis and preservation of life. Even physical phenomena (earthquakes, sea currents, hurricanes...) have a precise role in the physical and organic world. The inorganic world tends to an end (perfection).


3)           Characteristics :

A) Final cause acts by attraction. Whereas matter and form act by the fact that they are as potency and act, whereas the agent acts bringing forth form from matter, the end acts by attracting the agent moving its appetite (either nat, sensitive, int.),[37] which moves the agent to act.

B) the final cause is the good : It fulfils the appetite, perfects the subject, actuates its potency.[38] As a confirmation, the end draws the agent because it is the good and perfection of the agent.

SCGIII 16 “Finis igitur uniuscuiusque rei est eius perfectio. Perfectio autem uniuscuiusque rei est bonum ipsius. Unumquodque igitur ordinatur in bonum sicut in finem”.

C) it is a real cause : without finality or purpose, the agent would not start acting, and would not choose this means rather than that one.[39]


iii. division


1)           The final or mediate end : Ar. distinguishes betw. the end for which one acts (finis qui, finis cuius gratia) from the end or person for whom we act (finis cui), and from the means, the activity by which we reach the  end qui (finis quo)[40].

2)           The proportion betw. the action and the end : finis operis (end or term per se of the action), finis operantis (freely chosen by int. agent which may differ from the finis operis)[41].

3)           The ultimate end (for which all other ends are means) and proximate end (intermediary end).

4)           cf. types of goodness : the end can be 1) perfective (in itself good for the agent); 2) delightful (good bec. it gives joy to the agent); 3) useful (as means or proximate end for the agent to obtain his honest good).

5)           The perfection of the agent :

A) the end is produced by the activity (factiva finis) of the agent, proper to the perfect agent.[42] The agent thus loves the end for which he acts (which makes him communicate his perfection out of pure liberality).

B) the end or object is possessed by the activity (adeptiva finis) of the agent, which is in need of perfection by adhering to the pre-existing object. Thus, the agent desires the end which fulfils his imperfection.[43]


iv. the principle of finality


1)           Enunciation

A) It is not formulated :

a) ‘Every being has an end’ : this proposition needs a demonstration from experience of nature and nat. law (and a first principle is self evident and undemonstrable).

b) ‘Every being is useful to man’ : a disputable consequence of divine Providence.

c) ‘Every being is a means allowing another being to reach its end’ : affirmation of the extrinsic causality which needs to be proved in each case.

d) ‘nature does nothing in vain’ this is an affirmation of Aristotle (constantly used in biology since the scientist ignores why this newly discovered organ, but is certain it has a purpose).

B) It is formulated :

a) ‘Omne agens agit propter finem’ (in the sense of term, or finish or stop, terminus ad quem).

b) ‘quidquid movetur ad aliud movetur’ : the Ancients always considered finality to signify the definite orientation of any given movement. It is obviously impossible that if there is movement, it would not be determined in function of the result which it will obtain.

c) finality is not opposed to efficiency, bec. it is ttly inseparable from it: the final cause is nothing but the efficient cause defined, and defined naturally by what it tries to do or must do.[44]


2)           Justification. We have already given the instances of different groups of agents acting for an end in real life (#2,2). Let us give the characteristic notae of finality wherever it is found :

A) in natural actions, finality is manifested by :

a) The internal order of the actions. The end or purpose ordains a) divers steps of any natural process; b) divers organs of a living being; c) the different natural beings betw. themselves.

b) The regularity of a given process (succession of the same natural cycle which favours the conservation of life).

c) Physical evils prove finality a contrario since they occur when the act does not reach its due effect (privatio boni/perfectionis/finis debiti).

B) finality in free acts : intelligent beings know the end as such, and determine it at will.[45]

C) Natural finality requires an intellect ordaining means to end :

M. There is finality in the natural order.

m. But if the action is ordained to the end, someone must know the end as such as well as the convenience of the action to the end.

Ccls. The existing finality in unintelligent nature requires an intelligent designer of  the order of nature.[46]




1)           The end is the first of all causes :

A) Primus in intentione : it is the presupposit necessary before all other causes can cause. Without a purpose (or more generically a term and direction of motion), the agent would be in the fog & would not act. Matter would not receive the form and the form would not inform matter unless it was for an end.[47]

B) Ultimus in executione : motion terminates only when it reaches its term.

2)           The connection of all causes :

A) order : the end moves the agent, the agent educes the form, form organises matter.

B) the extrinsic causes : the agent is cause of the end realiter, the end is cause of the agent causaliter. Thus the end is ‘movens immobile’ and the agent is ‘movens motum’.

C) The intrinsic causes are mutual causes of their being. The extrinsic causes are cause of the intr. css, i.e. cause the union of matter and form.

D) in spiritual life : end is cause of order, sin against the end is more grievous than that against the means. The most perfect causes are those which act compos sui, w. perfect knowledge of end and of efficiency, which is the proper of spiritual beings.


The Causality of God and the causality of creatures



I. the limitation of the created causality


1)           Object : the action of the creature is cause of the fieri, not of the conservari, of the effect. It has a real influence on the effect (subst. or accidental change) but, once the action is terminated, the effect remains independently of the causality of the agent.

2)           Partial cause of the effect.

A) partial : Since the created cause only changes the effect, it presupposes something already existing, and thus the cause of the effect is not total cause but only partial.

B) This limitation comes either from the active potency[48] of the agent or from mat. passive pot.

C) consequence : the proper effect of the created cause is not the esse but the fieri of the effect. It gives the reason for the acquisition of such or such perfection, but not of all perfection/act/esse.

3)           Exigency of the primary cause.

A) the created agent is truly cause as it influences really the being of the effect.[49] But it does not render account for :

a) the being of the active potency (of the acting creature),

b) the being of the passive potency (which has a real ordination to the form),

c) the being of the action (which has to be actuated by an agent in act),

d) the conservation of the esse of the new effect.

B) The created cause pre-requires the cause of esse.

a) Ipsum Esse is cause of the diverse esse. But the cause of the most universal effect, esse, must be the most universal cause,[50] the Ipsum Esse Subsistens.

b) This causal action of God is unique, ab aeterno, identical to the divine Esse or Essence.

c) God is cause of creation (causal action, foundation of the esse) and conservation (permanence of esse) of the effects.[51]

C) The First cause (as Creator) must be :

a) subsistent being by essence (since it causes esse, it must be esse).

b) omnipotent : the more a passive potency is distant from its act, the greater active potency must be in the agent. But precisely in the active creation, there is no passive potency, thus there is an infinite negative distance from zero to something. Thus the active creation requires an infinite active potency.

c) universal : since esse is the most universal effect both in extension and in intensity.

D) Conclusion : God acts per modum dantis esse, et non solum per modum moventis et alterantis.


iI. the first cause


The first being has no cause : His existence does not depend on any exterior influx, but is posited and cannot be even said to be ‘cause of itself’ (Spinoza).

            1) terminology


1.    first cause (vs 2ry causes) bec. it is presupposed to any cause.

2.    cause of being (vs. cause of the fieri) bec. its proper effect is esse.

3.    universal cause (vs. part. cause) bec. it embraces all perfections included in the most universal esse.

4.    transcendental cause (vs. predicamental cs.) because esse transcends any one predicament.

2) Properties of God’s causality : it is cause :


1)           of the species, and not only of individuals (creatures insure the transmission of the species, not its production as a species, which would be to cause itself),

2)           of matter, whereas the creature presupposes the existing matter (I 44,2).

3)           most universal vs. created cause is only a partial cause of the effect (it changes its being, it does not make it be simpliciter) and presupposes the causality of the first cause (in esse et agere)

4)           by essence, vs. the creature is cause by participation. In God alone the agere is the essence.


iii. relation between the first cause and the secundary causes


1)     nature of the relation


1.    There is no parallel concourse between them as in the case of partial causes. They are totally subordinated causes, as in the case of an instrtl cause subordinated to the pple cause. But:

the instrumtl cause depends only on the ppal cause in agere, not in esse (2ry cs dpds on both).

the instrumtl cause has no proportion w. effect produced (2ry cs is proport. to action & effect).

the instr. cs has transitorily the virtue of the main cause (2ry cs has it permanently, as faculty).


2.    The creature is merely instrumental cause under God’s action when the effect exceeds its natural capacity as is the case of the supernatural order (priest is only instrument of God’s action in the conversion of man).


            2) Consequences

1.    first cause has more influence than the 2ry causes on the effect (main agent superior to instrument).

2.    The first cause and 2ry causes are total cause in their own order : the effect is said to belong entirely to each of them, to the first cause accdg to its esse, to the 2ry causes accdg to its fieri.

3.    The more a cause is subordinate to the first cause, the more it will participate in the efficiency of God. “The active potency of an inferior agent depends on the virtue of a superior agent, in so far as this superior agent gives the subordinate cause the power to act, or conserves it in esse, or applies it to action.”[52] The free agent is more efficacious as it is more submitted to the divine will.


iv. causality and action : potentia dicitur ad actum et objectum


1.    The entire doctrine of causality (activity of X upon Y) can be summed up by the thesis of the specification of the potencies  by their acts, and of the acts by their formal objects (I 77,3). Such thesis proves the essential relativity of the finite beings.

2.    There are active potencies (active or transitive) and passive immanent potencies (acted upon). How are each of the potencies distinguished?[53]  Reply : ‘potentia dicitur ad actum.’[54] But the act of a potency always tends to an object, ‘ratio autem actus diversificatur sec. diversam relationem objecti.’[55] The object properly speaking is ‘the extrinsic determinator of a potency considered as a potency’. If the potency is entirely ordained to its act, it is actuated only under the influence of the object.[56] This is because the act of a potency is always an action, endured by the passive potency and accomplished by the active potency. And the object gives the potency its specificity as form or term :

 the object is to the passive potency like the principle and the mover (forma).[57]

 the object is to the active potency as its term and end (finis).[58]

3.    Finality and efficiency come from the existence of passive potency ordained to active potency and vice versa, thus all beings in the universe act mutually as ‘objects’ of one another, pple of communications.



 The Metaphysical Participation


            Throughout the study of Mphcs, we have studied reality under the specific condition of being, being considered as being. The actus essendi is a key to the study of Mphcs of all that exists : static (constituents) or dynamic (causality).

            For a synthetic look, it is convenient to make use of another thomistic tool, the notion of participation. It is the speculative key which alone can relate all members of the universe : God and creatures, creatures betw. themselves, the constitutive principles of each concrete reality.


I. participation in ordinary language


1)           In General : to take part in a project, to share with family members news, sorrow, joy; to be part of a soccer team, to participate in a play.

2)           Physical participation : to take a part ‘quasi partem capere’ (a pizza, a heritage):

A) the previous whole disappears as a whole, and leaves only parts. Each part becomes a new whole, lesser than the previous.

B) there is not necessarily a previous right to get a share in the whole. The whole once distributed does not engender a new relation between the sharers.

C) physical participation looks mostly at the object divided. After the division, the sharers cannot be said to participate effectively in something common.

3)           Spiritual or moral participation :to share what another has absolutely and totally(habere partialiter)

A) the immaterial whole does not disappear after the participation:sharing joy, breakg news, friendship.

B) the participants do not share a part but enjoy the whole thing, but in a limited way (by receiving joyous news, you share the whole news but normally not as intensely as the first) : habent ‘partialiter’.

C) the participation in itself is not stg past but remains in the present since the whole still exists in the original owner, and the receivers still hold the thing in themselves.

D) Although there is no need of a previous right, the fact of participating is cause of a posterior relation of the participants with the whole and between themselves.

4)           Participation and causality :

A) in the giver : transitive causal participation (= to communicate) is to cause in another a certain reality, in a limited and partial way, which it alone has in a perfect way.

B) in the receiver : intransitive static participation (= to possess) is to receive effectively this reality or perfection, and enjoy it partially.


ii. before st. thomas


1)           Plato conceives a participation :

A) vertical : between the Ideas of the upper world and the lesser realities of the sensible universe. The Ideas possess in plenitude the perfections which are found in cosmic realities only partially. The Idea of Man is absolute, pure being and perfect, whereas each man on earth is a incomplete corruptible man. Such a participation implies a degradation of reality, a descent from what is perfectly being to what is mixed with non-being.

B) logical : with the concept of participation, Plato wants to resolve the problem of the One and the multiple by the idea which is universal.[59]

C) extrinsic : The Idea is by definition outside our universe. The Idea is not the efficient cause but only the exemplary cause of the sensible things.

2)           Aristotle corrects his master. More than participation, he deals with it as a causality :

A) horizontal: between 2 beings of the cosmos.[60] Such causality is not necessarily  debilitated as it passes to the effect (vs the platonic participation which is giving a part of  the Idea to the thing).


B) real-physical : it is because the  horse transmits the same substantial form that the colt has the same species and genus as the former (vs Plato’s colt which is from the Idea of Horse).

C) intrinsic : the active participation communicates its being/form through the efficient cause, which explains from within the existence of the effect, and the similarity with its cause.


iii. the strictly metaphysical participation


1)           Notion : the metaphysical participation signifies :

A) being/possessing partially a perfection (spiritual participation).

B) any of the 2 senses of participation : static or dynamic.

C) in S.T. taking whatever positive meaning he finds both in Plato and Aristotle since he looks as it from a superior perspective, which comes from his discovery of being as act or actus essendi.

2)           Actus Essendi and Participation :

A) Actus essendi responds to the the platonic instances :

a) the vertical relation of  Plato is sublimated since the actus essendi of any finite being is an authentic participation, a real replica of the Infinite Self Subsistent Esse.[61]

b) the logical relations of Plato are elevated to the metaphysical plane.

c) The relation of One and Multiple as well as the exemplary cause of the Ideas are preserved.

B) Actus essendi responds perfectly to the exigencies of the participation-causality of Aristotle

a) The proper esse, cause of all causality of any given being.[62] Father causes his son by his esse.

b) The horizontal causality finds its ultimate explanation in the vertical dependence on a transcendent infinite being.[63] The father, cause by his esse, is himself caused by the Infinite esse.


iv. the extension of participation


1)           The Generic principle. Plato seemed to base his philosophy on participation, Aristotle on the distinction and structure of Act/Potency in beings. ST unites these two concepts by elevating and thus identifying them : what Plato calls participation is named by Ar. Act/Potency and vice-versa. This is because the act is to potency what the perfection participated is to the participant.[64]

2)           the different applications of participation :

A) real composition. the ontological structure of any creature is a real compos. of essence/esse: every creature has being, is a being by participation, derived from Esse by essence.[65]

B) in material beings, m/f. are related also as pot. and act, and thus matter partcpts in the form.

C) Substance and accidents are also in a relation of participation (substance participates in accidents like Pot. in its Act).

D) participation extends its domain to all relations of potency and act : faculties participate in their respective operations; inferior creatures participate in the perfection of superior ones (human int., intelligence per participationem, participates in the divine intellect who has intelligence per se), s.grace makes us participate in the divine life, and the beatific vision will be the most perfect point of participation possible for a creature, angelic or human.

3)           Participation in being : in all given cases, the concrete being participates in a perfection which in last instance comes from perfcts contained in the Ipsum Esse Subsistens. Esse is the act of all acts, the perfection of all perfections containing them actu/virtually in the highest degree.


[1]Forbidden by the scepticism of Pirrho, causality was denied explicitly by the nominalists. However, Hume remains the most reknowned opponent of causality, which he considered unknowable (men have the belief that it exists, hence they pretend to find it in the daily observation of the succession of phenomena), although he said it might exist “whatever begins to exist must have a cause of its existence”, yet unverifiable.  Cf. Treatise on Human Nature I, III sect.3. For Kant, following Hume, “causality is a principle of production, that is, of succession in time” (Critique of pure Reason, A 189,B 232-33). Causality is no more stg real but a “pure concept rooted in the mind” (Ibid 189, B 234). For them, the Thomists are guilty of the ancient sophism, post hoc, ergo propter hoc.

[2]what is not red cannot begin to be red but by another, external agent (red, brush), or internal agent (blood flux) but always distinct from the passive potency which is actuated. Cf. Aristotle’s definition of motion : actus entis in potentia in quantum est in pot.

[3]I 3,4; S.C.G. I,22.

[4]vs. materialism and evolutionism, which implicitly affirms that the greater comes from the lesser.

[5]vs. the Pantheists whose essential error of mingling the cause and the effect (as a part of the cause) comes 1º from the confusion of the efficient cause and formal cause; but 2º and maybe more deeply from the thesis of the necessity of creation (the cause cannot not cause : thus the effect is necessary, and is implied ncssly in the cause, which can neither be conceived, nor be, without effect).

[6]such a truth is obvious and inexcusable, says St. Paul in Ro I.

[7]there is temporal priority in father and son; not between soul and its faculties (quasi material cause)

[8]I need to remove bricks to boil kettle (condition). If reading this book is only useful for exams, it won’t be cause of success.

[9]bad friendships can be the occasion for immoralities, but such sins are caused by the will.

[10]including substance for the accidents.

[11]the exemplary cause or model can be reduced to the formal (and efficient) cause.

[12]including substance for proper accidents (accidents which flow from the essence).

[13]God, efficient and final cause of all creatures.

[14]if a musician is architect, we say that a musician is the cause per accidens of the building of houses (‘le violon d’Ingres’). It may cause some equivocation in daily life : the poor acting of a Catholic in professional life will often be imputed to the C. Church.

[15]evil e.g. has no cause per se, since the proper cause of the sinner’s action is always stg positive (the act of stealing gives a real possession of material goods). Evil comes from the lack of ordination of the human act to the ultimate end (moralitas : relation of conformity of acts to the end of man).

[16]original sin is causa p. accidens of death as removens prohibens of original justice and immortality. However, the ‘removens prohibens’  can be responsible for the main effect, for not doing what it should have (to cut bridge pillars causes the car crash per accidens). Coffee is the removens prohibens of Mphcs class early in the morning.

[17]called also extrinsic formal cause. Taken from Gonzalez Alvarez.

[18]sensu stricto, it is the model in so far as it is conceived by the agent (e.g.‘vision’ of the house in mind of architect).

[19]the law acts as ex.cs. : it is the ratio agibilium in mind of the legislator, exemplary cs. of the subjects’ actions.

[20]cause is both principle of being and of intelligibility, but it is principle of understanding of a thing bec. it is the principle of its being (vs. the immanentists).

[21]it is likewise incorrect and non-sensical to say that the soul acts on the body.

[22]If it is obvious that forms exist, it seems more difficult to speak of matter and mat. cause of these forms : we are tempted to believe that forms are simple, ttly identical to themselves. In reality, things are what they are, but also what they are not and will be (Ch. de Foucauld young and vicious is the same Ch. F. old and holy) : in this vicious young man we find already the mat. cause of the old saint. A being is not ttly identical to self (by its form) it is also open to contradiction/diversity/change (by potency/matter).

[23]Mph I 3, 984a16 “It is not the wood nor the bronze which is cause of the change in them, which makes a bed out of wood or a statue out of the bronze. To search this other thing is to seek this other principle, that from which comes the beginning of change”.

[24]it is already the formulation of the principle of causality of Ar. “Everything which is in motion, is moved under the influence of something” (Phys VIII, 4 256a2).

[25]For him, everything occurs as if , in each given instant, things stopped existing and God re-created them : “from the fact that we now exist, it does not follow that we exist one moment after, unless the same cause which has produced us continues to produce us, that is to say to conserve us,” Principles of philosophy I 21.

[26]ST in Mphs V, lect 3.

[27]e.g. the Passion, the Mass and Grace.

[28]The father produces his son, not the entire human nature.

[29]e.g. to burn, to heat, to cut, to light, such processes or activities enrich and change the patient, not the agent. I 18,3 ad 1; I II 3,2 ad 3; 31,5.

[30]any motion is defined by its ultimate term (I go to Sydney via Goulburn); the term of the factio is the ext. object, the term of the operation is the subject : and that is how we call the first change transitive and the second immanent.

[31]Phys. II 7, 198a,24. Man who engenders (eff. cs) engenders not anything but a man (final cs) who is no other than the human form (formal cs).

[32] the incisive teeth tear, the molar ones chew ; “Of course, only those beings in which everything was produced as if there was final determination have been preserved, and the others have perished” Phys II 8, 198b 17.

[33] Chance is the fortuitous meeting of 2 lines of causality per se. It is a per accidens event, unintentional, it is not an action having a strict unity. Man attributes it to chance, but it is not so since it is foreseen by the 1st cause whose causality directs all events (I 116,1; In I Peri Herm l.14, 187).

[34]Ibid 198 b 34.

[35] “Sicut in intellectu praeconcipiente exsistit tota similitudo effectus, ad quam per actiones intelligentis pervenitur, ita in agente naturali praeexsistit similitudo naturalis effectus, ex qua actio ad hunc effectum determinatur; nam ignis generat ignem et oliva olivam” C.G. III 2, second Adhuc.

[36]Cf In I Post Anal l.5,50; In IV Mphsc 5, 595.

[37]in case of rational beings, the end is presented by the int. (acting formaliter et finaliter) to the will which moves (efficienter) the faculties of int. and operation... : causae sunt ad invicem causae, sed aliter et aliter.

[38] I 5,1.

[39]I II 1,2

[40]e.g. man reaches his union w. God, ultimate end (finis qui) by the vision (finis quo) of God, for himself (finis cui).

[41] I give alms (which per se relieves man of his poverty) to get praises or for the love of God (subjective end of the agent).

[42] sculptor facit perfectionem statuae; Deus facit mundum universum amore benevolentiae.

[43]creatures call upon God to fulfil their desire of beatitude (amor concupiscentiae : I want beat. for myself).

[44]Sertillanges. Final cause is the efficient cause of the eff. cause. See the interaction between intellect and will.

[45]except the bonum in communi and the desire for happiness which I cannot not want.

[46] the finality of the universe demonstrates the existence of a Supreme Intellect (5ª vía)

[47] “Finis est causa causalitatis efficientis, quia facit efficiens esse efficiens; et similiter facit materiam esse materiam, et formam esse formam cum materia non suscipiat formam nisi propter finem, et forma non perficiat materiam nisi per finem. Unde dicitur quod finis est causa causarum quia est causa causalitatis in omnibus causis.”  (De principiis naturae 10).

[48] The agere of the creature is limited because its esse is itself limited : agere sequitur esse.

[49] Occasionalism is simply false in saying that it is God who burns and cuts, and not the fire and the knife. God does not cut nor heat, but is the cause of agents which cut and burn. This hierarchy of causes respects the dignity of the created agents and the transcendence of the creating Agent.

[50]I 45,5

[51]betw. creation and conservation, there is only a distinction of reason in God, since conservation is the single creative act of God, and distinct only in the effect, in so far as creation is prolonged in time (I 104,1).

[52]S.C.G. III 70.

[53]the shoe maker works on one type of leather, the tanner on another type of leather : 2 active powers (2 distinct craftsmen) dealing w. 2 distinct leathers (passive potencies).

[54]the potency is recognized by its act, as the tree by its fruit, the student by his exams, the artist by his work.

[55] 2 distincts arts will need different objects, passive potencies.

[56]the leather of the shoemaker is ordained to the form of shoe, only under the action of the active power of the agent.

[57]color enim in quantum movet visum est principium visionis I 77 3.

[58]the sculptor aims at making a statue out of a passive potency (inert matter).

[59]Plato’s theory seems deficient from the fact that, in order to resolve metaphysical questions, he uses logical tools. This horse exists because it participates in the species of the Idea-of-Horse.

[60]this horse is such because it is caused by 2 concrete horses, the male and the female.

[61]The act of being which God has placed in the most intimate of me is a participation of the Being of God, who created it, and this limited esse is the basis of the ontological structure of the finite reality.

[62]ST does not deny the discoveries of Aristotle, like the real active power of creatures, but he gives them their ultimate source, esse.

[63]every being is a direct participation of the Self Subsistent Being of God.

[64]Potency explains the limitation, or participation, of the finite realities : bec pot. determines and limits act/perfct.

[65]Although they are similar by the fact that both exist, however an abyss separates the Being limited by no potency and the beings whose esse is degraded by being received in a potentia essendi. The real composition is in fact a ‘decomposition’ of the plenitude of the Esse Subsistens in a plurality of finite beings.