In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Divine Exemplarity, Virtue, and Theodicy in Aquinas
  • John M. Meinert

Brian davies famously defends a controversial reading of Aquinas and the problem of evil.1 According to Davies, Aquinas contends that God is not a moral agent in "any sense we can fathom or adjudicate on."2 He is subject to no moral law and has no moral context. God's goodness is not moral goodness. Therefore, God needs no justification in the face of evil.3 Brian Shanley attacks this account in The Thomist Tradition, claiming that "Davies is at odds with Aquinas himself in claiming that moral virtue cannot intelligibly be ascribed to God, and so it would seem that God could be called morally good."4 God can rightly be claimed to exhibit the spiritual perfection of moral goodness and should thus be called a moral agent. Davies responds, in The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil, that Shanley is not engaging with his position.5

If Aquinas takes moral virtue to exist in God, it is only because he thinks that nothing God produces can fail to have some grounding in God's nature. . . . [End Page 235] Aquinas thinks that cats derive from God and therefore reflect what he is. But he never suggests that we should embrace the slogan 'God is feline'.6

Davies continues to defend this interpretation of Aquinas in Thomas Aquinas on God and Evil.7

Both Shanley and Davies cite question 61, article 5 of the Prima secundae in favor of their respective positions.8 Therein, commenting on the Augustinian axiom that the soul must follow God to acquire virtue,9 Aquinas says: "thus it is necessary that the exemplar of human virtue pre-exist in God, just as in him pre-exist the rationes of all things. So therefore, virtues may be considered as existing exemplarily in God, and thus they are called exemplar virtues."10 In Aquinas's mature treatments of God's knowledge the word rationes signifies the divine ideas.11 What neither Davies nor Shanley points out is that the debate surrounding the implications and exegesis of this passage is a debate concerning modes of God's exemplarity and the divine ideas. In other words, the key to understanding this debate more fully lies in Aquinas's doctrine of exemplarity. [End Page 236]

Both Davies and Shanley are right about God's moral goodness, but in different ways. Both admit that God is the exemplar of all virtue but disagree about the implications this has for God as a moral exemplum (an example to imitate) and his moral goodness.12 I argue in this article that God is an exemplar in three ways: natural, analogous intellectual, and metaphorical intellectual. Shanley is arguing from analogous intellectual exemplarity to God's moral exemplarity and moral goodness. Davies is arguing from metaphorical intellectual exemplarity to deny that God is a moral exemplar or exhibits moral goodness.

Put differently, Davies is correct for those virtues which have imperfection in their res significata. God exemplifies these virtues by metaphorical intellectual exemplarity.13 Hence, he cannot be said to have these virtues in any morally relevant sense. Based on these virtues, God is not morally good and is not a moral exemplum. On the other hand, Shanley is right to claim that those virtues which have no imperfection in their res significata pre-exist in God according to analogous intellectual exemplarity. These virtues are participations in the divine essence and are predicated in an analogical way. With respect to these, God can be said to exhibit the virtues and moral exemplarity; he can be imitated as a moral exemplum. His goodness would supereminently encompass moral goodness.

In my conclusion, I argue against Shanley's implication that this would require one to offer a justification of God. One can hold Shanley's position on analogical predication of some virtues (from which follows God's moral exemplarity) and still follow Davies in claiming that God needs no moral justification. Again, the key is Aquinas's doctrine of exemplarity. [End Page 237]

I. Exemplar Causality and God

Though most Thomistic scholars divide God's exemplar causality into natural and intellectual...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 235-262
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.