A Summary of Act & Potency

By Daniel Roberts,

Earlier this week, Southern Evangelical Seminary hosted its first Open House of the year! On-campus students received a t-shirt citing one of Thomas Aquinas’ famous distinctions, the distinction between act and potency. As promised to the students in attendance, this article aims to provide a summary of the meanings of these terms and their relevance in the discipline of natural theology.

“Potency and Act divide being in such a way that whatever is, is either pure act, or of necessity it is composed of potency and act as primary and intrinsic principles.” [1]

A fundamental idea within the natural theology and metaphysics of Thomas Aquinas is the idea of motion or as we would understand it today, change. [2] What is it about the existence of things that allow them to change, and yet stay the same? Why is it that a tree has, within…

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