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TRANSCENDENTAL GOOD

Paul Gerard Horrigan, Ph.D., 2014.


Good (bonum)1 is a transcendental property of being (ens). The same in reality, being and
good are convertible (ens et bonum convertuntur), though being distinct notions, good notionally
adding to being a relation to appetite. Good (bonum) is being (ens) inasmuch as it is appetible.
Good and being are really the same, and differ only according to reason, which is clear from the
following argument. The essence of good consists in this, that it is in some way appetible. Hence
the Philosopher says2 The good is what all desire. Now it is clear that a thing is appetible only
in so far as it is perfect; for all things desire their own perfection. But everything is perfect so far
as it is in act. Therefore it is clear that a thing is good so far as it is being; for it is the act of being
(esse) that is the actuality of all things, as is clear from the foregoing (q. 3, a. 4; q. 4, a.1). Hence
it is clear that good and being are the same really. But good presents the aspect of desirableness,
which being does not present.3 Every being, as being, is good. For every being, as being, is in
act and is in some way perfect, since every act is a sort of perfection, and perfection implies
desirability and goodness, as is clear from article one. Hence it follows that every being as such
is good.4
We see here in the above passage that in order to demonstrate the convertibility of being
(ens) and good (bonum), St. Thomas shows that the good is what all desire; but a thing is desired
according as it is perfect; it is perfect, however, so far as it is in act; and it is in act in the measure
that it is being. The necessary conclusion is that the good (bonum) and being (ens) are the same
in reality. But they are not the same in reason or notionally, for the good conveys the formality of
appetibility, which is not explicitly said when we say being.
What is the good in general? According to Aristotle, the good is that which all desire
(bonum est quod omnia appetunt).5 In this determination good is related to appetite. Good is
what is appetible or desirable; the basic thing about it is that it bears on and stirs up the appetite.
This general description of the good indicates the effect produced by the good: it moves the
1

Studies on transcendental good in Aquinas: V. H. CLAIRE, Whether Everything That Is, Is Good, Laval
Thologique et Philosophique, 1947, pp. 66-76, 177-194; 1949, pp. 119-140 ; G. MANGELLI, Il bene nel pensiero
filosofico di S. Tommaso, Miscellanea Francescana, 60 (1960), pp. 241-246; E. SMITH, The Goodness of Being
in Thomistic Philosophy and its Contemporary Significance, Washington, D.C., 1967; M. HOENES, Ens et Bonum
Convertuntur: Eine Deutung des scholastischen Axioms unter besonderer Bercksichtigung der Metaphysik und der
Ethik des hl. Thomas von Aquin, Bamberg, 1968; D. SCHLTER, Der Wille und das Gute bei Thomas von Aquin,
Freiburger Zeitschrift fr Philosophie und Theologie, (1971), pp. 88-136 ; J. A. AERTSEN, The Convertibility of
Being and Good in St. Thomas Aquinas, The New Scholasticism, 59 (1985), pp. 449-470 ; J. A. AERTSEN, Good
as Transcendental, in J. A. Aertsen, Medieval Philosophy and the Transcendentals: The Case of Thomas Aquinas,
Brill, Leiden, 1996, pp. 290-334 ; J. A. AERTSEN, Thomas Aquinas on the Good: The Relation Between
Metaphysics and Ethics, in Aquinas Moral Theory, S. MacDonald and E. Stump (eds.), Cornell University Press,
Ithaca, NY, 1999, pp. 235-253 ; S. L. BROCK, Metafisica ed etica: la riapertura della questione dellontologia del
bene, Acta Philosophica, 19.1 (2010), pp. 37-58.
2
ARISTOTLE, Ethics, I, 1 (1094a 3).
3
Summa Theologiae, Ia, q. 5, a. 1, c.
4
Summa Theologiae, Ia, q. 5, a. 3.
5
ARISTOTLE, Nicomachean Ethics, I, 1 (1094 a2).

appetite, which tends towards it as long as the good is not yet possessed and comes to rest in it as
soon as it is possessed. When we say that the good is what all desire, we do not mean that every
good is desired by all beings, but that whatever is desired has the nature of the good.6 Also,
what all desire should not be understood only with respect to beings endowed with knowledge,
which apprehend the good, but also with respect to things which do not have knowledge (e.g.,
minerals, plants), which tend to the good by a natural appetite, not as if they can arrive at a
knowledge of the good, but rather because they are moved to the good by one who knows the
good.7 Finally it should be made clear that no being desires evil as such for those who desire evil
do not desire it save inasmuch as it has the aspect of goodness, that is, inasmuch as they consider
such a thing good. Therefore, their intention is directly concerned with the good and accidentally
with evil.8
How Good Does Not Add Anything Real to Being
Good (bonum) does not add anything real to being (ens) for if anything were added to
being, being would be contracted to a special genus by the nature of the good.9 Good is not
entirely synonymous with being for the essence of a thing, taken absolutely, is sufficient to allow
a thing to be called a being (ens), but not to allow it to be called good (ipsa essentia rei absolute
considerata sufficit ad hoc quod per eam aliquid dicatur ens, non autem ad hoc per eam dicatur
aliquid bonum10). Therefore, good adds something logical to being.
What, then, is this logical something that good adds to being? Since good is what all
desire, good adds something to being. Good expresses that a being is suitable for the appetite.
Therefore, St. Thomas writes: It is clear that the good and being are really one and the same, but
the good expresses the aspect of suitability, which being itself does not express.11
Good (bonum) and being (ens) are really the same, and differ only in notion. Good and
being are really the same for that which is included in the notion of being is not really distinct
from being; but goodness is included in the notion of being for it is being considered as perfect
and desirable; therefore, goodness is not really distinct from being. And goodness and being
differ in notion because goodness presents the aspect of desirability, which being does not
present. In other words, being contains the notion of goodness actually and implicitly, but not
actually and explicitly. Something explicitly is declared in the notion of goodness, which is only
implicitly declared in the notion of being. Thus, there is no addition of any extrinsic difference to
being, but of an explicitly signified mode of being.12
Being is Prior to Good in Notion
That is prior in notion which is first conceived by the intellect. But the first thing
conceived by the intellect is being. Therefore, in notion being is prior to good. Summa
6

Cf. Summa Theologiae, I, q. 6, a. 2, ad 2.


Cf. In I Ethic., lect. 1, no. 11.
8
Cf. In I Ethic., lect. 1, no. 10.
9
Cf. De Veritate, q. 21, a. 1
10
De Veritate, q. 21, a. 1, ad 1.
11
Summa Theologiae, I, q. 5, a. 1.
12
R. GARRIGOU-LAGRANGE, The One God, B. Herder, St. Louis, 1943, pp. 214-215.
7

Theologiae, I, q. 5, a. 2, c.: In notion being is prior to good. For the meaning signified by the
name of a thing is that which the mind conceives of the thing and intends by the word that stands
for it. Therefore, that is prior in notion, which is first conceived by the intellect. Now the first
thing conceived by the intellect is being; because everything is knowable only inasmuch as it is
in actuality. Hence, being is the proper object of the intellect, and is primarily intelligible; as
sound is that which is primarily audible. Therefore in notion being is prior to good.
How Every Being is Good
Every being, as being, is good, for perfect presents the aspect of what is desirable and
good; but every being, inasmuch as it is being, is actual and in some way perfect; therefore,
every being, inasmuch as it is being, is good. Every being is such simply and good relatively, in
that it has at least its essence and act of being (esse), even though it is not good simply.13
Summa Theologiae, I, q. 5, a. 3, c.: Every being, as being, is good. For all being, as being, has
actuality and is in some way perfect; since every act implies some sort of perfection; and
perfection implies desirability and goodness, as is clear from a. 1. Hence it follows that every
being as such is good.14
13

R. GARRIGOU-LAGRANGE, op. cit., p. 221.


What about evil? Evil is the privation of good, the absence of a good which is due to a subject. As darkness is the
opposite of light and error the opposite of truth, so, evil is the opposite of good. Thus, the notion of evil is derived
from the notion of the good. We already know that every being (ens) is good (bonum), so it is impossible that evil
signify any being, any form, or nature. It follows, therefore, that the term evil signifies some absence of good. This
is what is meant when it is said that evil is neither a being nor a good. For, since being as being (ens qua ens) is
good (bonum), the absence of the one (bonum) implies the absence of the other (ens).
However, the Angelic Doctor writes in article 3 of question 48 of the Prima Pars that not every absence of good
is evil. For the absence of a good can be understood in a privative and in a negative sense. Taken in a negative sense,
the absence of good is not evil; for otherwise it would follow that everything would be evil because it does not have
the good found in something else. For example, a man would be evil because he does not have the swiftness of the
roe or the strength of a lion. But the absence of a good taken in the privative sense is called evil; for example, the
privation of sight is called blindness(Summa Theologiae, I, q. 48, a. 3, c.). Therefore, evil is defined as the
privation of good. It is the absence of a good which is due to a subject.
Evil Can Only Exist in a Good. Evil is something privative. Consequently, it is clear that evil cannot exist all by
itself because it does not have an essenceAccordingly, evil has to exist in a subject; now every subjectis a good;
therefore every evil is in a good(Summa Contra Gentiles, III, 11). It therefore follows that evil is unable to totally
corrupt its subject so that no good would be left in it; for otherwise evil would be left without a subject and thus
exist all by itself (Cf. Summa Contra Gentiles, III, 12).
Physical Evil and Moral Evil. Among the various kinds of evil, we have the important division of evil into
physical evil and moral evil. Physical evil deprives a being of a natural perfection due to it, for example, a bad cough
or a bad cold. Moral evil, on the other hand, is the privation of the proper order to the ultimate end in a being
endowed with free will. Concerning physical evil and moral evil Renard writes: Physical evil is the privation of a
physical perfection (absolute or relative) which the subject should have. It is absolute when it includes no aspect of
the good in its formal concept, as, for example, blindness in man. Relative physical evil, on the contrary, while
showing a lack of the proper order or proportion due to a subject, may in itself be a certain good, but not to this
particular subject nor at this time, as, for example, obeseness.
Moral evil deprives a rational creature of the proper order to the end (remotio debiti finis). It is, therefore, also a
privation; not, however, in the physical order, but in the moral, the order of the end(H. RENARD, The Philosophy
of Being, Bruce, Milwaukee, 1950, p. 186).
The Cause of Evil. It is undeniable that every evil in some way or other has a cause, since evil deprives a being of
a good due to it, and a thing can fall short of its nature only because something causes it to fall short. And this cause
can only be something good, for every cause is a being, and every being is good. Even so, evil does not have a direct
efficient cause, i.e., a producing cause which intends evil as such, for whatever is the object of an appetite is a good.
14

Good Has the Aspect of a Final Cause


Good has the aspect of a final cause. Aristotle defines the end and the good as that for
the sake of which something is done.15 Now, the desirable has the aspect of an end; but
goodness is desirable; therefore, good has the aspect of an end, at least as regards the act of the
one desiring; and it can be desirable either because it is pleasant (as a fruit), or because it is
useful (as a bitter medicine), or because it is virtuous.16
Garrigou-Lagrange also explains that good is the first in causation and the last in being,
because the end is the first in causation, in the order of intention, since it attracts the agent to act;
and the end is the last in being, or in the order of execution. Thus the generator tends to
reproduce its form, for example, fire tends to reproduce the form of fire, the ox the form of an
ox, and the form of the thing generated terminates the passive generation, and afterward what is
generated is made perfect. Thus when the animal acquires its complete development, then it is
perfectly like the one generating.17
Summa Theologiae, I, q. 5, a. 4, c.: The Philosopher says (Phys. ii) that that is to be
considered as the end and the good of other things, for the sake of which something is.
Therefore good has the aspect of a final cause.
Since good is that which all things desire, and since this has the aspect of an end, it is
clear that good implies the aspect of an end. Nevertheless, the notion of good presupposes the
idea of an efficient cause, and also of a formal cause. For we see that what is first in causing, is
last in the thing caused. Fire, e.g. heats first of all before it reproduces the form of fire; though
the heat in the fire follows from its substantial form. Now in causing, good and the end come
first, both of which move the agent to act; secondly, the action of the agent moving to the form;
thirdly, comes the form. Hence in that which is caused the converse ought to take place, so that
there should be first, the form whereby it is a being; secondly, we consider in it its effective
power, whereby it is perfect in being, for a thing is perfect when it can reproduce its like, as the
Philosopher says (Meteor. iv); thirdly, there follows the formality of good which is the basic
principle of its perfection.
The Ratio of Good Consists in Mode, Species, and Order
This fifth article of the fifth question of the Prima Pars is concerned with causated good.
The ratio of good consists in mode, species, and order. Summa Theologiae, I, q. 5, a. 5, c.:
Augustine says (De Nat. Boni. iii): These three mode, species and order as common good
things, are in everything God has made; thus, where these three abound the things are very good;
where they are less, the things are less good; where they do not exist at all, there can be nothing

Therefore, it follows that evil can have only an indirect efficient cause, that it is caused by accident (per accidens).
Evil has a material cause, in a broad sense, which is the good which is its subject. But evil has no formal cause, for it
is the privation of form (Summa Theologiae, I, q. 49, a. 1, c.: causam formalem malum non habet, sed est magis
privatio formae). Nor does evil have a final cause, because it is not intended as such, for the end is the good.
15
Physics, II.
16
R. GARRIGOU-LAGRANGE, op. cit., pp. 222-223.
17
R. GARRIGOU-LAGRANGE, op. cit., p. 223.

good. But this would not be unless the ratio of good consisted in them. Therefore the ratio of
good consists in mode, species and order.
Everything is said to be good so far as it is perfect; for in that way only is it desirable (as
shown above aa. 1, 3). Now a thing is said to be perfect if it lacks nothing according to the mode
of its perfection. But since everything is what it is by its form (and since the form presupposes
certain things, and from the form certain things necessarily follow), in order for a thing to be
perfect and good it must have a form, together with all that precedes and follows upon that form.
Now the form presupposes determination or commensuration of its principles, whether material
or efficient, and this is signified by the mode: hence it is said that the measure marks the mode.
But the form itself is signified by the species; for everything is placed in its species by its form.
Hence the number is said to give the species, for definitions signifying species are like numbers,
according to the Philosopher (Metaph. x); for as a unit added to, or taken from a number,
changes its species, so a difference added to, or taken from a definition, changes its species.
Further, upon the form follows an inclination to the end, or to an action, or something of the sort;
for everything, in so far as it is in act, acts and tends towards that which is in accordance with its
form; and this belongs to weight and order. Hence the ratio of good, so far as it consists in
perfection, consists also in mode, species and order.
Bonum Honestum, Bonum Delectabile, and Bonum Utile
By an analogical (and not univocal) division (as goodness is predicated chiefly of the
virtuous, secondly of the pleasant, and lastly of the useful18) Aquinas teaches that goodness is
rightly divided according to the manner in which it is the object of the appetite, into the virtuous
or disinterested good (bonum honestum), the pleasant good (bonum delectabile), and the useful
good (bonum utile).
The useful good (bonum utile) is the good which is desired as means to an end. The
virtuous or disinterested good (bonum honestum) is the good which is desired as the last thing
absolutely terminating the movement of the appetite. The pleasant good (bonum delectabile) is
the good which terminates the movement of the appetite, as procuring the rest of the appetite
which possesses it.
Summa Theologiae, I, q. 5, a. 6, c.: This division properly concerns human goodness.
But if we consider the nature of goodness from a higher and more universal point of view, we
shall find that this division properly concerns goodness as such. For everything is good so far as
it is desirable, and is a term of the movement of the appetite; the term of whose movement can be
seen from a consideration of the movement of a natural body. Now the movement of a natural
body is terminated by the end absolutely; and relatively by the means through which it comes to
the end, where the movement ceases; so a thing is called a term of movement, so far as it
terminates any part of that movement. Now the ultimate term of movement can be taken in two
ways, either as the thing itself towards which it tends, e.g. a place or form; or a state of rest in
that thing. Thus, in the movement of the appetite, the thing desired that terminates the movement
of the appetite relatively, as a means by which something tends towards another, is called the
useful; but that sought after as the last thing absolutely terminating the movement of the appetite,
18

Cf. Summa Theologiae, I, q. 5, a. 6; De Veritate, q. 21, a. 1.

as a thing towards which for its own sake the appetite tends, is called the virtuous; for the
virtuous is that which is desired for its own sake; but that which terminates the movement of the
appetite in the form of rest in the thing desired, is called the pleasant.19
As regards this division of goodness, it should be observed that it is not a division of
things but rather of aspects of goodness. Therefore, a thing which is a virtuous good may be at
the same time also pleasant. Aquinas states: Properly speaking, however, pleasant are those
things which have no other aspect under which they are desirable save the pleasant; whereas
useful are called those things which are undesirable in themselves but are desired solely because
they are an aid to something else, as for instance the taking of bitter medicine; while virtuous are
such things as are desired for their own sake.20
The virtuous good (bonum honestum) in the above analogical division in Summa
Theologiae, I, q. 5, a. 6, c. is not to be understood in the strict sense as the moral good (i.e., the
good which is conformity with the objective ultimate end of man), but the wider sense as the
good wanted for its own sake since it confers a perfection (as, for example, knowledge acquired
in studying speculative philosophy such as philosophy of knowledge [gnoseology], general
metaphysics [ontology] or philosophy of God [natural theology]). This is the reason for the
virtuous good being also called the disinterested good (i.e., a good not desired because of its
usefulness or pleasure, but because of the perfection it confers).
Good in the primary sense is the virtuous or disinterested good (bonum honestum), to
which the useful good (bonum utile) is related as means and the pleasant or delectable good
(bonum delectabile) as complement.
Bonum Secundum Quid and Bonum Simpliciter
Everything that is, is good. The level of transcendental or ontological goodness of a finite
being is directly proportioned to its particular participation in the intensive act of being (esse as
actus essendi) limited by its essence (essentia), which is potentiality with respect to actus
essendi. The more intense is its degree of participated act of being (esse as actus essendi) the
higher its degree of transcendental or ontological or metaphysical goodness. Transcendental
(ontological or metaphysical) goodness is what is called bonum secundum quid. But there is also
what is called bonum simpliciter, as Avira, Clavell, and Melendo explain: That which reaches
its end, is good. This is the fullest meaning of what is good. Even in ordinary language, when a
person does not qualify his statements, the term good is understood by others in this sense. Thus,
a thing is bonum simpliciter (i.e., good, without any further qualification) if it fulfills its end; in
contrast, the term bonum secundum quid (i.e., the good, in a certain sense) merely refers to a
things ontological goodness. For instance, when we talk of a good sprinter, we mean that he
runs fast; we do not refer primarily to his act of running. The end of a sprinter is to reach the
finish line within the shortest possible time in order to win the race; if he does, that achievement
adds some goodness to himself, because it perfects him. In the moral life, a man is good if he
directs himself towards his last end (God) through the practice of the moral virtues.

19
20

Summa Theologiae, I, q. 5, a. 6.
Ibid., ad 2. Cf. Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 145, a. 3.

St. Thomas often affirms that only in God is there perfect identification between Being
and being good, since God has no end outside Himself; He is Infinitely Perfect, so nothing
outside the Divine Essence can perfect Him. In contrast, creatures cannot claim to be good by
simply being: an evil person is precisely called evil simpliciter because he has a disorderly life
that is not directed to his last end; he is good only secundum quid, to the extent that he has the act
of being.
Goodness is also the result of the attainment of what we may call an immanent end,
through the acquisition of the perfections proper to a particular nature the quantitas continua
and quantitas virtutis. Thus, the dimensive quantity of a child is directed to an end which is
immanent to the child himself, that is, the physical development proper to an adult; in this sense,
we say that an adult is more perfect than a child. Likewise, considering the operative (physical or
spiritual) powers of man, we call good surgeon a person who possesses the knowledge and
skills required for the competent practice of surgery. 21
Bonum Est Diffusivum Sui
Bonum est diffusivum sui.22 This axiom is to be understood along the line of final
causality. Aquinas writes in De Veritate: Though, according to the proper use of the word, to
pour out seems to imply the operation of an efficient cause, yet taken broadly it can imply the
status of any cause, as do to influence, to make, etc. When good is said to be of its very notion
diffusive, however, diffusion is not to be understood as implying the operation of an efficient
cause but rather the status of a final cause. Nor is such diffusion brought about through the
mediation of any added power. Good expresses the diffusion of a final cause and not that of an
agent, both because the latter, as efficient, is not the measure and perfection of the thing caused
but rather its beginning, and also because the effect participates in the efficient cause only in an
assimilation of its form, whereas a thing is dependent upon its end in its whole being. It is in this
that the character of good was held to consist.23
The Goodness of God
Finite beings have a hierarchy of degrees of ontological or transcendental good (bonum)
proportionate to their level of participation in the act of being (esse as actus essendi). A plant, for
example, has a higher degree of ontological goodness than a rock, a horse a higher degree of
ontological goodness than a plant or a rock, and a man a much higher degree of ontological
goodness than a horse, a plant, or a rock.
The Supreme Goodness, the highest level of goodness, is God Himself, Pure Act of
Being, Ipsum Esse Subsistens. The Divine Essence, states Aquinas, is goodness itself, but this
is not the case in all the rest. God is good by essence, whereas other things are good by
21

T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, op. cit., pp. 161-162.


Studies on the axiom bonum est diffusivum sui: J. PEGHAIRE, Laxiome bonum est diffusivum sui dans le
noplatonisme et le thomisme, Revue de lUniversit de Ottawa, 1 (1932), pp. 5-30 ; B. BLANKENHORN, The
Good as Self-Diffusive in Thomas Aquinas, Angelicum, 79 (2002), pp. 803-837 ; I. CAMP, The Aporia of the
Principle Bonum diffusivum sui, and Divine Freedom in St. Thomas Aquinas and His Interpreters, Pontifical
University of the Holy Cross, Dissertationes Series Philosophica, Rome, 2009.
23
De Veritate, q. 21, a. 1, ad 4.
22

participation. Each thing is good in accordance with its actuality. Since, then, God alone is His
own act of being (esse), He alone is His own goodness.24
God is Good
In his commentary on Summa Theologiae, I, q. 6, a. 1, Garrigou-Lagrange writes: Since
God is the first effective cause of all things, evidently the aspect of good and of desirableness
belong to HimThe effective cause is desirable and good as regards its effects (thus the father is
so with regard to his children); but God is the first effective cause of all things (second, third,
fourth and fifth proofs of Gods existence); therefore, God is good as regards all creatures. The
proper perfection of the effect is its likeness to the agent, for every agent makes its like. But
everything seeks its own perfection. Therefore, everything seeks to be like its efficient cause. But
if the likeness of the efficient cause is desirable, then a fortiori the effective cause itself is
desirable.25 Summa Theologiae, I, q. 6, a. 1, c.: To be good belongs pre-eminently to God. For
a thing is good according to its desirableness. Now everything seeks after its own perfection; and
the perfection and form of an effect consist in a certain likeness to the agent, since every agent
makes its like; and hence the agent itself is desirable and has the nature of good. For the very
thing which is desirable in it is the participation of its likeness. Therefore, since God is the first
effective cause of all things, it is manifest that the aspect of good and of desirableness belong to
Him; and hence Dionysius (Div. Nom. iv) attributes good to God as to the first efficient cause,
saying that, God is called good as by Whom all things subsist.
God is the Supreme Good
Commenting upon Summa Theologiae, I, q. 6, a. 2, Garrigou-Lagrange writes: In the
univocal cause the likeness of an effect is found uniformly, but in the higher and non-univocal
cause it is found eminently; but goodness belongs to God as the supreme effective cause of all
things, which is non-univocal, yet transcending every genus; therefore, goodness belongs to God
in a most excellent way. For all desired perfections flow from Him as from the first cause.26
Summa Theologiae, I, q. 6, a. 2, c. (God is the Supreme Good): God is the supreme good
simply, and not only as existing in any genus or order of things. For good is attributed to God, as
was said in the preceding article, inasmuch as all desired perfections flow from Him as from the
first cause. They do not, however, flow from Him as from a univocal agent, as shown above (q.
4, a. 2); but as from an agent which does not agree with its effects either in species or genus.
Now the likeness of an effect in the univocal cause is found uniformly; but in the equivocal
cause it is found more excellently, as, heat is in the sun more excellently than it is in fire.
Therefore as good is in God as in the first, but not the univocal, cause of all things, it must be in
Him in a most excellent way; and therefore He is called the supreme good.27

24

De Divinis Nominibus, IV, lect. 1.


R. GARRIGOU-LAGRANGE, op. cit., p. 231-232.
26
R. GARRIGOU-LAGRANGE, op. cit., p. 232.
27
Summa Theologiae, I, q. 6, a. 2, c.
25

Only God is Good by Essence


Regarding Summa Theologiae, I, q. 6, a. 3, Garrigou-Lagrange states: To be essentially
good belongs to God alone. A thing is good in so far as it is perfect, 1. according to its being, 2.
as to its operative principles, and 3. according as it attains its end; but this threefold perfection
belongs to God essentially, because He alone is His own act of being (esse), His own action, and
His own end; therefore, essential goodness belongs properly to God, and all else is goodness by
participation.28
Summa Theologiae, I, q. 6, a. 3, c.: God alone is good essentially. For everything is
called good according to its perfection. Now perfection of a thing is threefold: first, according to
the constitution of its own being; secondly, in respect of any accidents being added as necessary
for its perfect operation; thirdly, perfection consists in the attaining to something else as the end.
Thus, for instance, the first perfection of fire consists in its esse, which it has through its own
substantial form; its secondary perfection consists in heat, lightness and dryness, and the like; its
third perfection is to rest in its own place. This triple perfection belongs to no creature by its own
essence; it belongs to God only, in Whom alone essence is act of being (esse); in Whom there are
no accidents; since whatever belongs to others accidentally belongs to Him essentially; as, to be
powerful, wise, and the like, as appears from what is stated above (q. 3, a. 6); and He is not
directed to anything else as to an end, but is Himself the last end of all things. Hence it is
manifest that God alone has every kind of perfection by His own essence; therefore He Himself
alone is good essentially.29

28
29

R. GARRIGOU-LAGRANGE, op. cit., p. 233.


Summa Theologiae, I, q. 6, a. 3, c.