GOD AS “NOTHING”: A METAPHYSICAL RECIPE AGAINST ANTHROPOMORPHISM
Prof. Uduma Oji Uduma FIIA, MNIM
Professor of Logic,
National Open University of Nigeria, Abakaliki.
Department of Philosophy,
Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu.
This paper aims at explicating the right perspective towards understanding God. Minding the inexplicable nature of God and the ambiguity of human language, this paper opines that God is best described as “nothing” while nothing here does not mean non-existent but indescribable. Using the method of hermeneutics, the paper studies the dynamism of religious anthropomorphism in the quest towards understanding God. In the attempt to actualize the already stated aim, the paper studies the tenets of anthropomorphism, concept of “nothing” in philosophy and how the concept of “nothing” is a better choice than the anthropological language definitions of God as prevalent especially during the scholastic era of philosophy. Our finding reveals that the different anthropological definitions of God demeans the person of God, creates ambiguity in religion and impoverishes human understanding of God which in most cases is the cause of atheism. On appraisal, the paper philosophically assesses the concept of “nothing” as the better definition in understanding God. Hence by “nothing” the person of God is not demeaned, instead He is put in the right perspective as a divine being in whose being cannot be anthropologically understood. Therefore, the implication of the study shows that “nothing” is a better definition of God than all anthropological definitions which are unable to integrate the fullness and perfection of/in God.
Understanding Anthropomorphism in Religion.
The word anthropomorphism has a Greek translation from the words, anthropos + morphe which means man/human and form respectively. Hence anthropomorphism can be said to mean the metaphorical attempt or assignment of human attribute to non-human beings either on the spiritual level or physical realm such as God/gods and animals/ trees respectively. It is obvious therefore that religious anthropomorphism is a figure of speech which defines theological truths about God or gods in human language and tries to give super human qualities to God/gods in the attempt to define God. It is the sublimation of human qualities in a superlative degree in the attempt to qualify the supremacy of God. Anthropomorphism provides by analogy a conceptual framework such that God who is beyond human comprehension is made intelligible to man’s reason through human language.
Anthropomorphism has a close associate word, anthropopathism which translates as anthropos + pathos. This translates as human and passion respectively. This means the attribute to God of human physical form or psychological characteristics. Anthropopathism refers to God as having emotions and feelings like human persons. Such emotions include; jealous, hates, anger, love e.t.c.
Hence by traditional explanation, people anthropomorphize for different reasons among which include the following;
1. According to David Hume, people anthropomorphize for intellectual reason. Hence anthropomorphism offers explanations to unfamiliar and mysterious world or realities by using the model of human language that is much more familiar. Nevertheless, this account fails to explain why human beings anthropomorphize familiar objects, such as pets and other physical objects.
2. According to Sigmud Freud, people anthropomorphize for emotional reasons. In this case anthropomorphism can be referred as anthropopathism by giving emotional interpretation to make a hostile or indifferent world seem more familiar and therefore less threatening.
Some philosophers claim that religion is man-made and God is human creation. Hitchens argued that even the men who made it (religion) cannot agree on what their prophets or redeemers or gurus actually said or did. Every religion has claims of originality, logicality and authenticity. Also, every religion is always a belief in a supernatural being that immanently influenced the world and existence. Nevertheless, these claims by believers lack soundness of logical prove beyond belief. Perhaps even the believers may not know the precise nature of god/God or the first cause or necessary being as claimed hence leading believers to anthropomorphism in order to substantiate their belief in the Supreme Being.
This concept of anthropomorphism runs through the different world religions manifest in different religious mythologies and works of art. Hence this claim to anthropomorphism is manifest in Jewish Tanakh, Christian Bible, Islamic Quran, Hindus’ Vedas, Buddhists’ Sutras, Jainists’Agamas e.t.c. Different world religions employ different human characteristics but sublimated to a superlative degree in their attempt to understand and describe God, who for these religions, supersedes every human person and human characteristics. Unfortunately, in their claim that God supersedes every human characteristics, they exclude language as a human characteristic such that if this Supreme Being is so perfect and beyond human characteristics, why the lure of anthropomorphism.
Christian philosophers and experts in different world religions have done a great work towards Christian religious anthropomorphism. This was championed by Scholastic philosophers and Theologians. They employed several arguments to prove God’s existence. The oldest work in Christian mythology is the Biblical anthropomorphism. Biblical anthropomorphisms are used primarily in reference to God, who is neither visible nor human. It shows God as entering a covenant with human beings. Also, it makes reference to angels, Satan e.t.c. In the New Testament, anthropomorphism took a radical dimension as manifest in the mystery of the incarnation of Christ.
In the first part of his Summa Theologica, Aquinas developed his quinque viae (five ways) of proving the existence of God. Aquinas’ argument to this effected included; unmoved mover, first cause, necessary being/contingency, argument from degree or teleological argument. Aquinas’ argument can be said to be a recipe of Aristotelian ontology.
The argument from an unmoved mover asserts that, from human experience and physics of motion or transition from potentiality to actuality, there must be an initial mover. This argument of an initial mover shows that there ought to be an initial mover which causes every other thing into motion. Aquinas argued that whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another thing, so there must be an unmoved mover. Aquinas assumed this unmoved mover of everything to be God.
Aquinas' second argument is “first cause” or “uncaused cause”. Here Aquinas assumed that it is impossible for a being to cause itself. If a being must exist to cause another being into existence, there must be a first cause. This is because it is impossible for there to be an infinite chain of causes, which would result in infinite regress. Therefore, there must be an uncaused cause or a first cause. Aquinas identified this first cause to be God.
In his third argument, Aquinas asserts that all beings are contingent. This means that all beings have possibilities of existence and non-existence. Aquinas argued that if everything can possibly not exist, there must have been a time when nothing existed; as things exist now, there must exist a being with necessary existence. This being must exist necessarily such that the being can be said to be responsible for its own existence. The being capable of necessary existence is according to Aquinas, God.
Aquinas fourth argument is anchored on the degree of goodness. This is one of the influences of Aristotelian categories on Aquinas. According to Aquinas, things which are called good, must be called good in relation to a standard of goodness. This standard of goodness bears the maximum possible goodness. Hence there ought to be a maximum goodness which causes all goodness and from whom the concept of goodness comes and whose goodness, good things on earth imperfectly mirror. This highest goodness in Aquinas definition is God.
The last argument is the teleological argument. Here Aquinas asserts that things without intelligence are ordered towards an end or a purpose. This cannot be possible in the absence of an intelligent and capable being to direct the purpose or end of creatures or unintelligent beings. Hence there must be an intelligent being to cause objects to their end or purposes.
In his book, The Trace of God: A Rational Warrant for Belief Joseph Hinman applied Toulmin's warrant in his argument for the existence of God. Stephen Tolumin is notable for his rational warrant in argument which shows ideas that feature the rational warrant for a conclusion. For Hinman, the only possible prove to the existence of God is to demonstrate the rationally-warranted nature of God’s existence". For Hinman, the belief in God is rationally warranted. Hence the trace of God is manifest in religious experiences which give a rational warrant to the existence of God.
Also, there are traces of God’s existence manifest in the deductive and ontological argument of philosophers regarding the existence of God. These deductive and ontological arguments were championed by St. Anselm and Rene Descartes. Thus they claimed that God’s existence is self-evident. Hence they stated as follows:
whatever is contained in a clear and distinct idea of a thing must be predicated of that thing; but a clear and distinct idea of an absolutely perfect Being contains the idea of actual existence; therefore since we have the idea of an absolutely perfect Being such a Being must really exist.
It was the 20th century German Theologian, Rudolf Otto who attempted describing the basic transcendence of God. For him, a better description of the “Holy” or what he described as the ‘numinous’ is manifested in a double form such as; mysterium tremendum (mystery that repels) and the mysterium fascinosum (mystery that attracts or fascinates). According to Otto, mysterium tremendum is the manifestation of God as dauntful, awful, dreadful, fearful, overwhelming, e.t.c while by mysterum fascinosum he implied the mystery by which humans beings are fascinated and irresistibly drawn to the glory, beauty, power of transcendence, e.t.c.  These two dimensions explain the uncanny wrath and judgement of God and His fascinating grace, mercy and divine love. This was Otto’s expression of man’s approach to God.These approaches are manifest in human language definition of the person of God or anthropomorphism.
The Problem of “Nothing in Philosophy”
Generally, nothing is a concept designating a presumed absence of something or non-existence. Also, it denotes the lack in importance, value, interest, significance e.t.c. The word nothing is associated with nothingness which means a state of nothing. Nevertheless, it ought to be noted that non-existence here gains meaning only when in comparison to existence such that nothing is a denial of the existence of something or particular entity. Hence both “nothing and non- existence are denials of existence which in itself ought to be accepted so as to give meaning to “nothing” and “non-existence”.
Like other problems in philosophy, the problem of “nothing’ is yet to receive a final acceptance or solution among philosophers regarding its possibility. Parmenides was one of the earliest Western philosophers to consider the concept of “nothing”. Minding the possibility of change as proposed by Heraclitus, Parmenides denied “nothing” as a reality proceeding from change. For him, to speak of a thing, one has to speak of a thing that exists. Since we can speak of a thing in the past, it (the thing) must still exist though in some sense now and from this he concludes that there is no such thing as change. As a corollary, there can be no such things as coming-into-being, passing-out-of-being, or not-being. Nevertheless, to this view, Aristotle denied Parmenides saying, “although these opinions seem to follow logically in a dialectical discussion, yet to believe them seems next door to madness when one considers the facts”.
G. W. Hegel is said to have brought the dialectical method to a new pinnacle of development. Hegel applied this method in his philosophy of religion. In Hegel’s work on the Science of Logic, he explained the dialectical method of thesis, antithesis and synthesis. For Hegel, no proposition taken on its own can be true except through the whole granted by dialectical synthesis. The whole is the spiritual and is also referred by Hegel as the absolute. Thus Hegel sees nothing as the antithesis of pure Being while Becoming is the synthesis. Hence for Hegel, nothing is something even though Hegel’s nothing is a debased form of nothing as used in this study.
Philosophers and physicists argue a great deal that “nothing” does not really imply nothing and is not the same as nothing as ordinarily conceived. For the scientists, the idea of nothing is impossible such that even a vacuum cannot be said to be nothing in content because a vacuum still has the capacity of radiation, expansion and contraction, to warp and bend, e.t.c. Even if all particles including energy and electromagnetic fields are removed from a vacuum, it would contain at least gravity since gravity itself cannot be removed or cancelled in space. This is an experiment even a non scientist can provide the proofs by throwing an object up even in a vacuum. The force of gravity acts on the object even when the vacuum is said to contain nothing.
In his article on “Nothingness of Space Could Illumine the Theory of Everything”, Tim Folger opined that;
In a discipline where the stretching of time and the warping of space are routine working assumptions, the vacuum remains a sort of cosmic koan. And as in the rest of physics, its nature has turned out to be mind-bendingly weird: Empty space is not really empty because nothing contains something, seething with energy and particles that flit into and out of existence.
The great scientist, Einstein in the modern time adopted a position similar to Parmenides. On the death of his friend Michele Besso, Einstein consoled his friend’s wife with the words; "now he has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That signifies nothing. For those of us that believe in physics, the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion."  However, Einstein’s definition of nothing here denotes; not just emptiness of spaces or vacuum rather a state of meaninglessness. Meaninglessness here is born out of man’s impenetrability to the world beyond. Hence the fear of the strange world beyond leads the mind to think it as nothingness.
In his book; A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing, the great cosmologist and physicist, Lawrence Krauss attempted to answer the mind boggling question, “why is there something rather than nothing” in his explanation of the beginning of the universe. He asserted that there was in fact something to begin with, namely gravity and the quantum vacuum from which the universe was born. Here Krauss aligned his idea with the Big Band theory of creation. Hence if it is possible that the universe did come from nothing, then "nothing" is everything we see around us, and "everything" is nothing. Here Krauss attempted answering the puzzle of nothing from everything and defined nothing out of existence.
Nothing, as a thing to be perceived becomes something, therefore not nothing as ordinarily thought. Hence nothing has a conscious existence in human mind though it may lack calculation or measurement. It is with regard to this lack of measurement and calculation that anthropomorphism failed in the definition of God. Anthropomorphism attempts what it does not have the criteria to measure and cannot even in the subjunctive mood calculate accurately. Therefore, an attempt to understand or any form of thought about nothing gives nothing an existence, and existence is something not nothing. Little wonder Fraser asked the following questions;
1. Is there any place in the universe where there is truly nothing?
2. What are the properties of nothing?
Metaphysics of God as “Nothing” against Anthropomorphism
Having explicated the difficulty of anthropomorphism in bringing humanity to the real truth of God’s existence, this paper proposes an alternative to anthropomorphism. This alternative is the definition of God as nothing. It is obvious that an attempt to picture nothing is an impossible task for the human mind because even that we refer as nothing has a reality attached to it in human consciousness. Hence even the Buddhist monks’ claim to clear their mind during meditations does not really imply that their mind is blank of nothing because even a blank slate is something. Nevertheless, there is great need to put the term “nothing” in the right perspective as the need of this paper demands. Thus by nothing, this work refers to the impossibility of perfect definition of God and elusiveness of available anthropological definitions of God. Hence for us, God as nothing as culled for use here implies God as nothing phenomenologically describable, ontologically definable or imaginatively conceivable.
In his fundamental questions of metaphysics, Heidegger described the problem of nothing as that which human contemplation reveals the importance and vitality of our moods. For Heidegger nothing is what produces the feeling of dread which he referred as the Angst. This deep feeling is only the clue to the nature and reality of nothing for Heidegger. For Heidegger, nothing is seen to be concomitant rather than opposite of Being as claimed by Hegel. It is obvious that the distorted human representational thinking blocks every effort towards profound understanding of being. Hence Heidegger introduced the idea of Dasein which implies self-awareness or consciousness as means of authenticity of life created out of nothing or existence. Thus Dasein becomes a spectrum through which a profound understanding of being and existence can be made.
For the reasons of the limited and distorted nature of human representational thinking as already explained by Heidegger, we claim therefore, that it becomes obvious that anthropomorphism cannot be a good alternative towards defining God. Human representational thinking as an anthropological attempt in the definition of God places an ontological, operational and geographical limitations to what God is. The awesomeness of God and His perfection is not really captured by mere human representational thinking. Hence to save human representational thinking from this form of banalization and limitation, it becomes most convenient to address God as nothing. Hence just as Dasein saves the understanding of being from the block of human representational thinking so does nothing save the understanding of God from the banalization of anthropomorphism.
In his book, Being and Nothingness (L’etre et le neant), the most outstanding existentialist philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre being heavily influenced by Heidegger’s Being and Time, defined two types of being. The first is the brute existence of being (etre-en-soi) such as trees, animals, e.t.c. while the second is consciousness (etre-pour-soi). This second kind of Being is what Sartre referred as nothing. This is because for him, consciousness cannot be said to be an object of consciousness itself. It is obvious therefore that the authenticity of the human person is indescribable but lies in the self awareness or consciousness of the Dasein following Heidegger’s philosophy. Thus it can be said that though humanity is conscious of God’s existence, the quintessence of God is indescribable. Little wonder Einstein claimed that; “the most comprehensible thing about God is that He is incomprehensible”.
For Karl Popper, the traditional religious affirmations are not analogical truths but rather sheer nonsense. These traditional religious affirmations are the works of religious anthromorphism. Little wonder God is said to be the creation of man. Since God by definition extends beyond the frame of materiality, nothing in the material universe can most appropriately prove God’s existence. It is to be noted at this point that anthropomorphism has brought different forms of atheism such as; implicit and positive, weak and strong, practical and theoretical, e.t.c. These forms of atheism are warranted by insufficient explanation or definition of God in human language. The incongruence between the Being of God and the limitation brought by anthropomorphism dissatisfied some philosophers making them unable to come to terms with the existence of God.
In the first of his five books on Ethics, Spinoza wanted to liberate readers from the dangers of ascribing human traits to God through a critical reconsideration of anthropomorphism. Hence Spinoza sought an idiosyncratic and philosophical argument on the existence and nature of God. He had a primary reason of rejecting anthropomorphism in the sense of attributing human characteristics to something non human such as plants, animals, sky or God. Spinoza’s denial of anthropomorphism has the following implications:
1. That God is an impersonal power who cannot respond to human beings’ request as defined in anthropomorphism. For Spinoza, such God neither rewards nor punishes thereby disproving the religious belief on fear and moralism as God inspired.
2. It attacked the teleological proves on the existence of God. Teleological prove on the existence of God assumes that God acts according to reasons and purposes. This was the anchor of Aristotle’s account of nature which was borrowed by medieval theologians in the prove of God’s existence. This is most apt to the Christian Biblical narrative on creation of a God who made the world according to a plan comparable to a craftsman.
3. Anthropomorphism obscures the truth and limits the mind’s search of real truth.
Moreover, people ascribe to this divine ruler their own characters and mental states, conceiving God as angry or loving, merciful or vengeful. Hence Spinoza said; "...it has happened that each person has thought up from his own temperament different ways of worshiping God, so that God might love him above all others, and direct the whole of nature according to the needs of his blind desire and insatiable greed”. In his Dialogue Concerning Natural Religion, David Hume concurred to Spinoza and gave a critique of religious superstition, anthropomorphism and appeals to miracles as evidence of divine activity. Hume claimed that Christian belief is silly and incoherent. Nevertheless, these great philosophers accepted that God exists but they queued into the long lasting argument of the nature of this existence. To understand the nature of His existence leads to anthropomorphism. A survey of the different theological proves as stated above shows that each anthropological definition of God limits the person of God to ordinary human traits and characters.
The study has been an interventionist attempt on explicating the right perspective towards understanding God while minding the inexplicable nature of God and the deficiency of human language to this regard. Anthropomorphism has been an age long attempt towards understanding God but this has been a failed project since anthropomorphism has made the nature of God more difficult for human understanding, demeaned the person of God, created ambiguity in religion, impoverished human understanding of God and led people to atheism. Hence this paper opines that God is best described as “nothing” while nothing here does not mean non-existent but indescribable. By “nothing” the person of God is not demeaned, instead He is put in the right perspective as a perfect and divine being whose being cannot be anthropologically understood.
Philosophers argue that religion is man-made and God is human creation.  It is a scientific fact following the measurement of the current speed and distances to the galaxies and the oldest star clusters that our universe is about fourteen billion years old. Also, the first proto-human consciousness came into being about six million years ago and homo-sapiens arrived about two hundred thousand years ago. This background is very important towards understanding Harry’s question when he asked; ‘how come the oldest monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) only emerged about four thousand years ago whereas the human race has lasted for about two hundred thousand years ago’? . Even Hindu religion which is the oldest known religion on earth emerged about five thousand years ago. One sees why anthropomorphism becomes a religious answer to these historical gaps even when anthropomorphism is unfit as an answer to the awesomeness of God.
Nevertheless, religion as a belief in a supernatural being has exercised strong claims of originality, logicality and authenticity. Hence to substantiate their belief in the Supreme Being, different world religions apply the method of anthropomorphism which implies the definition of theological truth about God in human language and making God intelligible by human description. This attempt was the primary project of the scholastic philosophers such as Aquinas in his quinque viae (five ways) , Augustine, Origen, the deductive and ontological argument of St. Anselm and Rene Descartes, to mention but a few. These anthropological attempts have been a means of sublimating human characteristics to the superlative degree to qualify God whose Being they claim, supersedes every human characteristics. We make bold to question if this Supreme Being is so perfect and beyond human characteristics, why the lure of anthropomorphism?
The inability of anthropomorphism to address the above question makes this study most relevant towards searching for an alternative definition to the person of God since anthropomorphism obscures the truth and limits the mind’s search of real truth. Of high importance is to note that even though one could endlessly rebut the evidence for the existence of God as insufficient, these rebuttals do not demonstrate that God is a fiction. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. It is therefore the concern of this study to mitigate the current epistemological block towards understanding God as warranted by anthropomorphism. Hence this study finds it most convenient to define God as “nothing”. By nothing, this study seeks to address the inefficiency of anthropomorphism. It refers to the impossibility of perfect definition of God in human language and unrescuable elusiveness of available anthropological definitions of God. Hence just as Dasein saves the understanding of being from the block of human representational thinking so does nothing save the understanding of God from the banalization of anthropomorphism. Therefore, God as nothing as an alternative definition as culled for use here implies God as nothing phenomenologically describable, ontologically definable or imaginatively conceivable.
 God as Jealous; (Exodus 20.5), God as one who hates; (Amos 5.21), God as being angry; (Jer. 7.20), God as one who loves; (Exodus 20.6), God as one who is pleased; (Deu. 28.63).
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