American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly

Volume 96, Issue 3, Summer 2022

Agustín Echavarría
Pages 381-402

Can a Metaphysically Perfect God Have Moral Virtues and Duties? Re-reading Aquinas

Contemporary philosophers of religion usually depict God as a responsible moral agent with virtues and obligations. This picture seems to be incompatible with the metaphysically perfect being of classical theism. In this paper I will defend the claim, based on a reading of Thomas Aquinas’s thought, that there is no such incompatibility. I will present Aquinas’s arguments that show that we can attribute to God not only moral goodness in general, but also some moral virtues in a strict sense, such as justice and mercy. I will show why for Aquinas we can say that God has moral duties toward Himself and toward creatures. I will explain how for Aquinas God’s moral duties are not absolute, but conditionally necessitated. Finally, I will show how on Aquinas’s view there is no contradiction in saying that every act of God is, simultaneously, an act of justice and a supererogatory act of mercy.