Translatio: Scotus’s Lectura Proof of the Existence of God

[Preliminary notes:

1. The translation below is at times extremely wooden and clunky; this is because I have tried to translate as literally as possible. For clarification on a particular phrase or section, leave a comment below.

2. In the text, Scotus first gives the pro et contra arguments for Question 1, then the same for Question 2, then his own answer to Question 2, then the replies to the pro et contra arguments for Question 2, and only then returns to Question 1. Below, I translate the first part (A) of his answer to Question 1.]

Second Distinction

First Part

On the Existence of God and His Unity

Question 1: Whether among beings there is some being actually infinite

III. To the First Question


To the first question then it must be said that, because in infinite being there are properties [proprietates] respective [respectivae] to creatures, and from respective being is concluded another being [1], therefore properties of God respective to creatures are the proper [propriae] ways of knowing the existence of God and his infinity; and it is necessary to show properties of this sort.

However there are two properties of God with respect to creatures, namely eminence in goodness, and causality. Eminence remains undivided, but causality is divided, and according to some is divided into the exemplar, efficient, and final cause; and they say that the exemplar cause places a thing in quidditative being [ponit rem in esse quiditativo]. But I say now, and below it will be said more extensively, that the exemplar cause does not place among the number [of causes] with the efficient cause; for the exemplar cause in the mind of the artist does not place a thing in being except to the extent that it concurs with the efficient cause; hence if somehow it should be a formal cause, it should be called eminence more than formal cause, because the more eminent contains virtually [in virtute] the forms of others [2], and contains the others unitively [unitive]. Hence in God are these three: eminence, efficiency, and finality.

Efficiency however is able to be considered either as it is a metaphysical property [passio] or a physical passio, and it is in more as it is a metaphysical passio than a physical, because it is able to give being to another in more than it is to give being through motion and change, even if something would not have being except through motion and change; yet one is not the intention [intentio] of the other [3].

And the way of efficiency, as it pertains to the metaphysician, is the more effective way for concluding the existence of God than as it is a physical passio, for more passiones are in metaphysics by which the existence of God is able to be shown than in physics, as through composition and simplicity, through act and potency, and through one and many, and through those things which follow being [ens]. Hence of which, the extremes dividing being are found imperfectly in creation, of those the opposites conclude the perfect extremes in God [4].

And therefore badly did Averroes say in the end of Physics I — against Avicenna — that it only pertains to the physicist to show that God exists because this is only able to be shown through motion and and in no other way; as if the metaphysician begins from a conclusion proved by physics and lacks that [conclusion], as if it was not appearing certain in itself (for he said [this] falsehood there in the end of Physics I). Rather, more truly and more multitudinously is it able to be shown through the metaphysical passiones, which follow being. The proof of which is: the first efficient cause not only gives this “flowing” being, but gives being simpliciter, which is more common and more perfect; now, however, from the primacy of a lower does not follow the primacy of a higher unless that inferior is the most noble (hence it does not follow that ‘there is a most noble ass, therefore there is a most noble animal’, but it does follow that ‘there is a most noble human, therefore there is a most noble animal’); and therefore from the property of the most noble being a primacy of being is able to be argued more than from the primacy of the first moving [cause].

Omitting therefore the physical reasoning, by which is proved that a first moving [cause] exists, it is argued from the part of being that a first efficient cause exists according to the efficiency of being; and this is the reasoning of Richard [of St. Victor] in De Trinitate I, chapter 8:

Some being is not eternal, and therefore [exists] neither by itself [a se] nor by nothing [a nihilo], because nothing produces its very self; therefore it exists by another being. Therefore either that [other] being gives being in virtue of another, or not; and again either it takes its own being from another, or not. If neither thus nor thus — that it neither gives being in virtue of another nor takes being from another — it itself is the first efficient cause, because this is the notion [ratio] of the first efficient cause. If thus [it gives being in virtue of another and takes being from another], I ask of that other as [I did] of the previous; and it is not [possible] to proceed in infinitum; therefore it will stop in some first efficient cause which does not cause in virtue of another nor takes being from another.

But against this reasoning it is objected:

First, that it seems to beg [the question]: for it begs a stop [statum] and order in causes; but now if there were not some first efficient cause, a stop and order in causes should be denied.

Also, it does not seem to be a demonstration, because it proceeds from a contingent premise; for everything which is from God is contingently. And therefore this is contingent with respect to God: “some being is not eternal”, because from it follows that “there is some non-eternal being”, which is contingent. But demonstration is from necessary [premises].

Also, since it is not a demonstration propter quid, it seems also that it is not a demonstration quia est [5]; for when some conclusion is demonstrated by a demonstration quia est, there is always able to be made conversely a demonstration propter quid, from cause to effect. But from the existence of a first cause the existence of other things is not able to be concluded propter quid. Therefore neither [can the existence of a first cause be concluded] from the contrary demonstration quia.

Therefore, for the solution of these, first it should be known that per accidens causes and causes accidentally ordered are not the same thing, nor also are per se causes and causes essentially ordered the same thing. For when I say “per se cause” or “per accidens cause”, there is only expressed a comparison of one thing to one thing, namely of cause to effect; but when I say “causes accidentally or essentially ordered”, two causes to one effect are compared — hence there is a comparison of two things to one. Hence causes essentially ordered are causes of which one is ordered to the other so that they cause a third effect; but causes accidentally ordered are [causes] of which one is not ordered to another with respect of causing an effect, as father and grandfather with respect of son.

Secondly, from these things follows a threefold difference between causes ordered per se and causes accidentally ordered:

The first difference is that one cause depends per se on another in order that it causes some effect; [but it is] not thus in causes accidentally ordered to one effect. Hence one causality of one cause accidentally ordered suffices for the production of one effect, [but] not however the causality of one cause essentially ordered.

And from this follows the second difference, that in causes essentially ordered there is not a causality of one ratio, nor do they relate to [respiciunt] the effect beneath the same ratio; but the causality in causes accidentally ordered is of one ratio, because they relate to the same effect immediately.

From this also follows the third difference, that the causalities of all causes essentially ordered concur at once for the production of the effect, for it is necessary for the production of the effect that all of the necessary causes concur; but all causes essentially ordered are necessary causes; therefore all causes essentially ordered actually concur for the production of the effect. But this is not necessary in causes accidentally ordered, for each has its own perfect causality without another with respect of its effect, and they are of the same ratio, immediately relating to the effect.

Therefore, with these things supposed, the begging of the principle [petitio principii, i.e. “begging the question”] as far as the stop in causes should be excluded. I prove therefore first that in causes essentially ordered there is a stop:

First by the reason of the Philosopher in Metaphysics II (and Avicenna in [Metaphysics] VIII, chapter 1), which seems to be this: “of all intermediate [mediarum] causes having a first and ultimate — they [the intermediate causes] cause in virtue of the first, such that their causality is from the first”, as the Philosopher shows in the same work, “for it is not from the ultimate but from the first, because if to cause convenes to any of those, this will convene more to the first.” But the minor of it [i.e., the argument] seems to be this, that “if all causes are infinite, all are intermediate”, therefore all cause in virtue of a first cause; and therefore it is necessary to posit a first in efficient causes.

But you say that when “all infinite causes are intermediate” is accepted in the minor, either it is accepted that they are intermediate between a first and an ultimate, and then it is begged that there is a first, which ought to be proved; if however it should not be understood that they are intermediate between a first and an ultimate, but only intermediate negatively, then there are four terms, and the conclusion does not follow.

Therefore I say that that proposition, first accepted, is not the major in the reason of the Philosopher, but is antecedent to the major of his reason. Therefore this is his reason: “of all intermediate causes having a first and ultimate — they have causality from the first, therefore of all intermediate causes, [their] causality is from the first; but if there are infinite causes, all are intermediate; therefore their causality is from the first; but if there are infinite, then none is first; therefore there is a first cause and not a first”!

Proof of the accepted consequence:

All causes, in whatever way intermediate, whether positively or negatively, are caused; therefore the total coordination of intermediate causes is caused; therefore [it is caused] by something which is nothing of that coordination — therefore there is a first.

Further, the causalities of all essential causes concur at once for causing something caused, as shown before. But infinite [causes] are not able to concur in one [time] [6]; therefore there are not infinite [causes]; therefore it is [necessary] to give a first [est igitur dare primam].

Further, a cause prior in causing has a more perfect causality, and to the extent it is prior, to such it has a more perfect causality; therefore a cause prior in infinitum has an infinity causality; but if there is a proceeding in infinitum in causes essentially ordered, then there is a cause prior in infinitum. Therefore, with this same [infinitely prior cause] having been given, there will be a cause having infinite causality. But having an infinite causality in causing, it will not depend on another; and such is a first. Therefore, etc.

Further, effective being [esse effectivum] does not posit an imperfection in beings; but whatever is of perfection in beings is able is able to be in something without imperfection; therefore esse effectivum is able to be in something without imperfection. But this is not possible unless it causes independently, which is to be a first efficient cause; therefore, etc.

Also, if an infinity in accidentally ordered causes is posited, it follows that there is a “stop” in causes essentially ordered: for those causes accidentally ordered are in individuals of the same species. Then thus: no deformity is perpetual unless by a perpetual cause — outside that coordination — perpetuating that deformity. Proof: nothing of that coordination is able to be the cause of the total perpetual deformity, for in such [causes] accidentally ordered one is the only cause of one [other]; therefore beyond that deformed coordination it is necessary to posit some first and essential perpetuating cause. Hence deformity is by a deformed cause, but perpetual uniformity of that deformity will be by a cause outside that coordination; and thus, if there should be a proceeding in accidentally ordered [causes], there will be a stop to some first essential cause on which all accidentally ordered [causes] depend.

From these things is excluded the begging [the question] in a stop and order of essential causes.

To that which is argued secondly against the aforesaid reason, that “it is argued from a contingent [premise], namely that there is some being other than God”, — the philosophers would say that this is necessary on account of the essential order of the caused to the cause.

Yet I say first thus, that although it is contingent with respect of God, however it is a most evident contingent thing [contingens evidentissimum], so that one who denies that there is some being that is not eternal, is in need of sense and punishment; and therefore from such a contingent [premise] is able to be shown something necessary, for from the contingent follows the necessary, although not conversely.

Also, I say that although beings other than God are actually contingent with respect of actual being [esse actualis], [they are not contingent] however with respect of potential being [esse potentialis]. Hence those things which are called contingent with respect of actual existence [actualis existentiae], with respect of potential [existence] are necessary, so that although “there is a human” [hominem esse] is contingent, nevertheless that it is “possible [that] there is [a human]” [possibile esse] is necessary, for it does not include a contradiction to being [ad esse]. Therefore that something “is possibile” [possibile esse] other than God, is necessary, for being is divided into the possible and necessary, and just as for being necessary from its own habitude [habitudine] or quiddity there is necessity, so for being possible from its own quiddity there is possibility. Therefore let the reason, which [was given] before, be made with possibility of being [possibilitate essendi], and there will be necessary propositions thus: “It is possible that there exists something other than God, and not by itself [a se] (since then it would not be possible) nor by nothing; therefore it is able to be by another. That other is either able to act in virtue of itself, and not of another, and to be not by another, — or not. If thus, therefore it is able to be first; and if it is able, therefore it is, as is proved earlier. If not, and there is not a proceeding in infinitum, therefore finally it will be stopped.”

To the other, “when it is argued by demonstration quia est, conversely there is able to be made a demonstration propter quid“, it should be said that it is not always true, since not only from the effect is concluded the cause according to that ratio by which it causes such an effect, but also according to other rationes without which it is not a cause; and therefore the proposition is only true when from the effect is concluded according to that ratio according to which it causes the effect.

Thus therefore by the first [proof], from efficiency, is shown that something first exists, since, as had been shown, there is something by which all possible thing [possibilia] are able to be; but that by which all possibilia are able to be is not able to not be by itself, since then it would be by nothing; therefore it is necessary that it exists by itself actually. And thus it was proposed [to be proved].

Secondly, this is shown from the end. Something is naturally fitted [aptum natum] to an end. That therefore “ends” [finit] [7] either in virtue of itself, or another; if the first, therefore there is had a first; if in virtue of another, therefore that other is naturally fitted to an end, and there is a proceeding in infinitum; therefore it will be stopped at a first end. This is the reason of the Philosopher in Metaphysics II, and XII of the same, about the good which is most perfect, and of Augustine in De Trinitate VIII, chapter three: “Take away this good” etc.

The third way is from eminence. There is something good which is exceeded [excessum] or naturally [able] to be exceeded [natum excedi] (if you wish to argue with possibility), therefore there is something exceeding [excedens] or naturally [able] to exceed [natum excedere]; that therefore either is exceeded or is naturally [able] to be exceeded, or not; if not, therefore there is a first in eminence of goodness; if so, and it is not [able] to proceed in infinitum, therefore the same as before.

Thus therefore is shown a threefold first, namely a first in efficiency and a first in eminence, and a first in that for the sake of which [8].

And that threefold first is the same, since the first efficient cause is most actual and the first in eminence is the best; but that which is most actual is the best, having no admixture of evil or potency. Also, the first efficient cause does not intend something other than itself, since then that would be more noble than it; therefore it is the ultimate end, and thus first in the grade of ends. They are therefore the same.

Also, before it is shown that some infinite being exists, it is proved that God is his own understanding [intellectio], since if his understanding should be an accident [accidens] and not his nature, therefore since the first being is the efficient cause of all things, he will be the cause of his own understanding; but God is an agent through cognition, therefore he knew it [his understanding] prior [to causing it]. And of this cognition it is asked as before — either there will be a proceeding in infinitum to this that he should understand something, and thus he will never understand anything.


Latin text: Vatican edition.

[1]. By “respective” properties here is meant relative or relational properties, properties which intrinsically “point to” something else.

[2]. Or, perhaps, “it contains more eminently in its power the forms of others”.

[3].That is, even if an efficient cause can only cause through motion and change, yet causing through motion and change is not part of the essential notion of efficient causation as such.

[4]. That is (it seems to me), where there is a disjunctive property of being, and where one disjunct is found “imperfectly” in creatures, the opposite disjunct is perfect and is found in God. So if “act or potency” is a disjunctive property of being, and “potency” is imperfect and is found in creatures, “act” must be found as a perfect property in God.

[5]. These terms — demonstration propter quid and quia est — are technical Aristotelian terms that I have chosen to leave untranslated. Very roughly/simplistically, a demonstration propter quid is a demonstration from cause to effect, while a demonstration quia est is a demonstration from effect to cause.

[6]. In unum — perhaps the sense could also be more like “in causing one effect”.

[7]. I.e. is the end or final cause of.

[8]. Literally “cuius gratia“.

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