Why this Question Matters.
This is the last question “concerning what belongs to the unity of God’s essence”, the so-called “Treatise on the One God”. Aquinas has already reflected on beatitude as the last end of rational creatures; but now it is time for Him to consider how we might pre-eminently attribute beatitude to God Himself.
The Thread of the Argument
A1: Aquinas needs to define what he considers beatitude to be, so that he can overcome objections that suggest beatitude is to do with the accumulation of goods or is to do with being the reward for merit (which would make no sense for God). He states that beatitude is the “perfect good for an intellectual being” where that being is capable of grasping its own satisfaction with the good it possesses; is capable of doing well or badly; and is master of its own actions. From this definition, it is clear that beatitude belongs especially to God.
A2: When we think about God, although He is entirely simple, we can think about Him under different aspects. We can think about Him from the point of view of His essence or from the point of view of His will or of His intellect. How should we be thinking of Him when we consider His beatitude? One might consider beatitude, as it is to do with the good, to be to do with essence; similarly, as beatitude is to do with an end, one might also consider it under the aspect of the will. However, Aquinas insists that God’s beatitude is associated with His intellect. Everything with intellect desires to be blessed and the most perfect thing in an intellectual creature is the intellect by which it grasps all things. Hence the beatitude of an intellectual creature lies in intellectual activity. In God, being and understanding are really identical, but we can understand them in different ways. So it is appropriate for us to think of God’s beatitude in terms of His intellect.
A3: We might be inclined to simply identify the beatitude of those who are blessed with God Himself. Aquinas takes care to distinguish between intellect thought of as having an object to understand and intellect as the thing that does the understanding. In the first sense God is indeed beatitude as He is the object of the understanding intellect. But in the second sense, we should understand beatitude as something actually created in those who are blessed.
A4: Finally, Aquinas asks whether God’s beatitude encompasses all beatitude. As beatitude is a kind of perfection and God’s perfection includes every other sort of perfection (Question 4 Article 2) the answer is a straightforward “yes”. Anything desirable in a beatitude pre-exists in God’s beatitude. Aquinas takes this opportunity, at the end the “Treatise on the One God”, to offer a brief hymn of praise to God’s glory.