Viae (Ways)


An altarpiece in Ascoli Piceno, Italy, by Carlo Crivelli (15th century)

In the Summa Theologica, I.Q.2.iii Thomas Aquinas argues that the existence of God may be proved in five ways, one of which is “through the argument from motion”1. Aquinas says that “whatever is in motion is put in motion by another”, meaning that there must be a mover that sets other things in motion because, he argues, it is impossible for something to move itself. 

He explains it thus: Something that is moving is in potentiality, meaning that it is in the process of moving toward something, i.e., a particular end. Once it reaches the end it seeks, it will cease to be in potentiality and change into a state of actuality, i.e., its purpose for movement will be fulfilled. Therefore, a thing that is moving and is therefore in potentiality, is not and cannot be at the same time in actuality, because it cannot be both in the process of moving toward something and also have reached the thing it is moving toward. 

A mover - which is in actually - cannot also be potentially, otherwise it would mean that the mover is also in potentiality and itself in need of a mover. What this basically suggests is that after tracing back through all of the things in motion in search of their mover, one would find that there must be an initial or first mover; i.e., there must be something or someone who set all things in motion and is itself or himself not moved (in a state of act). Aquinas argues that this first mover is God.

Bishop Barron, in his book on Thomas Aquinas2, writes in the second chapter titled, “The Strangeness of God” that Thomas Aquinas’ arguments for the existence of God are Aquinas’ ways to lead people to Jesus Christ. Barron writes

It is very instructive that Thomas refers to the five demonstrations that he offers, not as proofs, but as viae, ways....They are paths that the spiritual master lays out in order to lead the reader finally to the path that alone discloses the God who is really God.3

Aquinas’ Five Ways for the existence of God are a way to lead people to Christ; Jesus Christ is the Way4 to the Father. Ultimately, everything leads to God and Salvation.

Bishop Barron continues to suggest that this initial focus on a primary mover is an analogy or reference to a larger theme found in the Summa, namely that Aquinas wants to move people to God as God wants to draw people to Himself. Barron writes:

As we saw in question 1 of the prima pars, the whole point of God’s revealing activity is to move, redirect, reorient fallen human beings, to set them on the path that leads them to God.5

Barron suggests that Aquinas offers these arguments for the existence of God as a way to ignite in people an interest to get to know God better and, therefore, lead them to happiness with God, with Christ, and with the Holy Spirit.

Whether we know it or not, God has already begun to move within us6, creating a need to move toward something greater, substantial, and intimate. Sooner or later in life we find that we can’t move ourselves, i.e., that we did not create ourselves nor can be spiritually self- sustained7. Aquinas provides five possible ways, viae, then, that humanity can take in response to satisfy that need, all of which lead back to the love of Jesus Christ.8

(By Edgar Avendano) @Latinofilmmaker


1 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, at New Advent, (11 December 2019).

2 Bishop Robert Barron, Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2008) 6269.

3 Barron, Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master, 63.

4 John 14:6, Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.

5 Barron, Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master, 66.

6 “...One can live under the illusion that ultimate happiness is something other than God, but the desire for happiness is proof that God is subtly at work in the soul of even the most hardened sinner. There is no move possible in human life that is not, in some inchoate, groping way, a move under the influence of God.” - Barron, Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master, 69.

7 “...nothing gives what it doesn’t have.” - Barron, Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master, 64.

8 “More precisely, in light of Jesus Christ, [Aquinas’ arguments for the existence of God] become ways of orienting the reader to the all-embracing power of God, means of showing that all aspects of one’s life ultimately find their origin and source in the divine love that Jesus discloses.” - Barron, Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master, 63.