St. Thomas Aquinas falls into that category of people I like to call “scary-smart”. Reading his work can result in a peculiar experience. I may read something translated to English well, using perfect grammar, and understand the meaning of each individual word, yet somehow, not understand what was said. Does Aquinas write nonsense or am I not the sharpest knife in the theological drawer? The later is much more reasonable. Here is a case in point from the compendium to Summa Theologica:
“The more remote a potency is from act, the greater must be the power that reduces it to act.”
With help from other Catholic theologians that explain Aquinas and my blog buddy Joe, I can make sense of such a sentence. Rephrasing in more common language, it may read something like this: The less one has to make something potentially happen, the more power needed to make it actually happen. But what does this mean when contemplating ultimate things?
Analogies are most helpful………
Suppose you have a new car you wish to start. All that is needed is the key and the ability to turn the ignition; not very difficult. Now take away the gasoline. You now need the ability to get some gasoline, put in the car and then start it. More resources are needed. In a sense you might say that you need more “power”. Now take away the battery as well. You’ll need even more “power”.
The more that is taken away from the car, the more power needed to make it actually work. Taking away things to infinity becomes nothingness. Adding power to infinity becomes all powerful. If left with not a single molecule to work with (nothing), the only way you could make a car first exist and then start it, is if you had infinite power. To create from nothing, then, requires infinite power.
All of this to get one word in our Creed. The word “Almighty” is not used simply because it sounds lofty and majestic. It describes, from logical necessity, the kind of power needed to bridge an infinite gap between potency and act.
St. Thomas Aquinas
1225 - 1274