What does the first way explain?

The first way argues that God is necessary in order to account for the existence of motion. The slightest quiver of a leaf cannot be adequately explained without invoking the divine causality. The rest of the five ways are equally astonishing, even laughable at first sight. Who needs more than wind to explain the quiver of a leaf?

But so long as a cause of motion is itself in motion, it is a mobile, and therefore needs an explanation for being in motion. Mobiles are not in motion because they are mobiles. It makes no difference if this cause of motion is touching the thing it moves (like the wind), or if we imagine it as somehow inside the thing it moves, like inertia or a force. In either case, it goes along with the thing it is pushing or pulling. This does not explain the motion, it only makes the mobile larger.

This process can only terminate with some mover that is not in any way moving along with the thing it causes. It is impossible, then, that it be a body, or any kind of limited or finite physical force that is present here then present there. It must be wholly spiritual, for it is not physical in any way- whether as a body or a property or a force. It must be omnipresent- for its action cannot be here and then there. It is also omnipotent- for all that can be done can be only done by him and with him and in his presence.


  1. Peter said,

    April 12, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    You paraphrased STA’s line here recently in a post:
    “…because the truth about God such as reason could discover, would only be known by a few, and that after a long time, and with the admixture of many errors.”

    How do you understand “with the admixture of many errors”?
    I always took him to mean that we screw up a lot and have to correct ourselves after a long time of analysis and contemplation; in other words, that proving such things is hard to do. Could he mean something else? He couldn’t have meant there are “many errors” in the proofs themselves . . . otherwise how did those few prove anything?

  2. Peter said,

    April 12, 2008 at 4:49 pm

    “This does not explain the motion, it only makes the mobile larger.”

    I always liked the imagery of the clock: having one cog, a hundred cogs, a billion…, still doesn’t explain the motion.

    Or Garrigou-Lagrange’s similar point, “If the whole cosmic series constituted the necessary being, this would be the same as saying that a hundred thousand idiots can constitute one intelligent man.”

  3. a thomist said,

    April 12, 2008 at 9:48 pm

    The easiest answer is that he spoke of their teaching as a whole, which contained some truths and some errors. Remember it was St. Thomas who points out (in Aristotle) that the first thing we know about truth is that it is in one way easy, in another way hard (any one can see that this is true, but it took Aristotle to recognize that it was the first thing we kno abut discovering truth).

    A deeper explanation might be that the truths found were put to bad use, or taken the wrong way. Parmenides strikes me this way. His ‘One’ as a description of the divine is pretty breathtaking, but when the universe is seen as the ‘one’ it is horrible-frozen in a sphere and dead.

    A deeper explanation still might be that they found truths that were true up to a point, but which were taken too far. An analogy might be in moral and political problems- thing X is good, so we must spend tremedous resources to it; thing Y is bad, so we must avoid it at all costs.

%d bloggers like this: