Could there be a derivation of the material universe? Could we see our inferior world arise in our contemplation from its superior principles through a type of hierarchical comparison?
The following “deduction” is an argument schema that Charles De Koninck employs in several of his published works. Here, it appears in a much more uninhibited style in draft. This unpublished draft I have translated from the French for your consideration. The conclusion of this draft even suggests that it is a preliminary opening to a draft of a work like The Cosmos.
One should compare it to De Koninck’s “Thomism and Scientific Indeterminism,” Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 12 (1936): 59-64; “The Problem of Indeterminism,” (1935) in Writings, vol. 1, p. 377, pp. 380-82, 390-96; and “Reflections on the Problem of Indeterminism” (1937) ibid., pp. 404-411; also, Ego Sapientia, in Writings, vol. 2, pp. 23-26. There are also similar lines of thought in the “Philosophical Biology” lecture notes for a course given in 1935–36, all translated by D. Quackenbush. These notes lay out in much more detail what is required for this “deduction” (arguing for the steps that De Koninck passess over in this note), while placing the source of the argument more squarely on Thomistic texts.
My hope is that, soon, I can present a more rigorously defended deduction in concert with an exposition and supplementation of the key arguments in De Koninck’s Cosmos regarding the hierarchical structure of the cosmos. (The problem of the historicity of essence would be touched upon, while any rapprochement of Thomistic ontology with evolution must wait for later essays.)
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[Charles De Koninck; Draft; Folder 20, Part 7, pp. 3–12]
In the universal hierarchy of creation, our spatio-temporal universe—the Cosmos—is the last universe. It is basically nothing but an oblique prolongation of the hierarchy of angelic universes. For each angel constitutes by himself a universe infinitely more perfect than the ensemble of beings that compose our own. If we could collect in one single individual all the diffused things in our world, all that is contained in the limits of space and time, the billions of nebulae of which our gigantic Milky Way is but one, all the life teeming upon the earth and in the seas and which flows into innumerable species and individuals, adding to this all the possible human individuals—we would never manage to reach the lowest of the angels. If, per impossibile, the last of the angels could disentegrate, its fragments would constitute a universe infinitely richer than our own.
The highest form of life, that of intellect, is essential to every possible universe. In an angelic universe, that life is realized whole from the very beginning. Because the essence of the angel is entirely determined in itself, and because it is entirely pure and there does not exist in it any obscure corner, this essence is entirely present to its intellect. The angel is naturally complete in itself as soon as it exists; there is nothing of becoming in it. In the dawn of its life God infuses it with ideas of all the things outside of itself through the perfection of its own essence.
The life of an angel is not diffused through time. In its substance everything exists at once; its duration does not flow. It is, so to speak, all concentrated in an instant. But this instant is so intense and comprehensive that it contains in itself infinitely more in intensity and in extension than the temporal duration of our entire universe. Due to the simplicity of its essence, it is capable of receiving its existence all together and undivided. In the substance of an angelic universe there is nothing beside an endless ‘today’.2 There exists, however, in its life of thought and of love a certain discontinuous succession insofar as it thinks successively upon such and such a thing or it converses at times with one angel and at times with another, but all these acts flow from a substance that is always the same from the point of view of duration. These thoughts and these acts of love always fall in the same ‘today’.
Our cosmos is also made for the sake of the life of the intellect. Indeed, each creature must be capable of an explicit return to its Creator, a return which assumes an intellect capable of knowing Him. If there exist irrational creatures it is because they are essentially a function of this intellect. Now, this intellect is realized here below in man. The entire cosmos is thus profoundly ordered to man.
We live in a universe where all things are profoundly separated from themselves. I am separated from myself already in the way in which I endure. My yesterday is no longer my today. My existence flows. I have a past, a present, and a future. I cannot exist without expending time; I cannot exist without pursuing existence. And the existence which I receive immediately becomes the past. Our universe is incessantly ‘formerly’.
But we are yet more profoundly separated from ourselves by ignorance. I barely know myself. And in order to know myself, it is necessary first of all that I go outside of myself. If I had no contact with the external world through sensation, I would not know that I exist. I am so profoundly separated from myself that I must make a detour so that I can take hold of me, an incursion into the sensible world.
We are so habituated to ignorance that we cease to notice it. But it is real nonetheless.
There are moments in the life of the average intellect where all things appear strange to us. We are the strangers in a world which is essentially ours. To not understand the world is a way of being separated from it.
This separation is all the more strange since our intellect has an intense desire to fathom it. It is made so as to possess the world. Our very ignorance is the decisive proof of this, for there is ignorance only where there is a capacity. We do not say that a rock is ignorant, and it is not a defect in an animal that it does not know geometry. The human mind is made to absorb the whole universe, to be quodammodo omnia, as the philosophers say, to be in a way all things.
What, then, would be the ideal state that we would pursue in time and in thought? I would like to exist all at once. I would like that all things were present to me all at once. I would like to contemplate them in an immobile and indivisible instant. I would like to have a present which is never a past and which is never separated from the future.
And by the same thinking I know that the world such that it is today is but a universe in the state of construction. We are in a world which is being made. Time such as I know it is essentially provisory, and I know that my intellect is not made so as to remain separated from things by ignorance.
In order to better grasp this idea, permit me to make a comparison between our universe of space and time and an angelic universe. For in philosophy we do not profoundly understand the inferior except from the perspective of the superior.
Our universe3 is the last of the created universes. It is at bottom but a prolongation of the angelic hierarchy. I speak of “an” angelic universe. For each angel constitutes in itself alone a universe infinitely more perfect than the ensemble of beings which compose our own. If we could gather into a single being all those diffuse things in our world—all the nebulae, all that is contained in the limits of space and time, all life which teems in the universe and which flows into innumerable species and individuals, and add to this all the possible human individuals, we would never manage to reach the lowest of the angels. If, per impossibile, an angel could scatter itself about, its fragments would constitute a universe infinitely richer than our own.
An angelic universe is not spatio-temporal. In its substance it exists all at once. Its duration does not flow. It is, so to speak, all concentrated at an instant. But this instant is so intense and comprehensive that it contains in itself infinitely more in intensity and in extension than the temporal duration of our entire universe. The reason is that the essence of an angel is simple and entirely determined in itself, and thus it is capable of receiving its existence all together and undivided. In the substance of an angelic universe there is nothing except an interminable ‘today’.
However, there exists in its life of thought and love a certain discontinuous succession, discrete time, but these acts flow from a substance ever the same. These thoughts and these acts of love always remain in its ‘today’.
Because the essence of an angel is entirely determined in itself, and because it is wholly pure and there exists in it no dark corners, it is perfectly present to its intellect. The angel is complete in itself as soon as it exists. There is no becoming in it: there cannot be a question of evolution. An angelic universe is thus given once and for all. And it is entirely present to itself in the measure in which it is.
In spiritual creation, then, there is as much ‘universe’ as there is of the individual. The ensemble of these individuals constitute a veritable hierarchy of universes more and more perfect and specifically different among themselves, such that a single individual totally exhausts the species, whereas in our world the individuals are indefnitely multipliable within a single species. We could compare the hierarchy of angelic species to that of natural species. But between natural species there is always a common natural genus. Thus the inorganic and the plant are really bodies, the man and the animal are truly vegetative and sensitive. There is between them a physical genus in which they really share. But the angelic species are all pure and one cannot bring them together except in a logical genus.
Where there is specific difference there is hierarchy: there are degrees of perfection. One angelic universe differs from another by its simplicity. The more an angel is perfect the more its essence is pure and determined, and the more powerful are the intellect and will which flow from it. That also means that their existence, proportional to essence, is more and more simple.
The more the intellect is perfect the fewer ideas it has, or rather, the more it grasps in one idea. One sees this already among men. The more intelligent and wise are those who see more of things in some general ideas which make present the individual cases.
As one descends down the ladder of angelic universes, their knowledge becomes more and more complex: they have a need of more and more ideas to make present the things which they are not. There is, therefore, in their life more and more succession.
In looking upon the angelic hierarchy in this sense of its degradation, we note a tendancy towards increasing complexity: the essence is less and less simple, existence also tends to diffuse itself; ideas become more and more numerous.
In this growing complexity there is a tendency towards confusion, and indeed to the degree that one descends the ladder, the angels begin to resemble each other more and more.
If, now, we wish to pass beyond the final echelon of this hierarchy and make two minds of the same species, we must forcibly decompose the essence. If the essence were always simple it would always be specifically different: it would be an angel again.
Now, an essence cannot be decomposed except on the condition that one of two principles be a determination and the other indetermination. In order to have an essence there must be determination: it must be only one such thing and not another. But the second principle cannot be determination for two determinations would give us two essences. These two principles we call, in the philosophy of nature, matter and form. You see by this that they have nothing in common with the everyday terms of matter and form.
I was saying the whole time that we were to pass beyond the final echelon of the angelic hierarchy in order to make minds. The mind, indeed, is essential to the universe. A universe which were not made in view of a mind would be impossible. For it is necessary that each creature be able to make an explicit return to its principle, the [Creator].4 Now, this return cannot be made except in the knowledge of the principle. Knowledge of this principle requires knowledge of being, and knowlege of being presupposes intellect.
Thus, the intrinsic end of the universe that we realize on this side of the angelic hierarchy is always intellect.
In deducing an infra-angelic universe we have implicitly deduced space and time: any infra-angelic universe is bound to be spatio-temporal. Why? Because henceforth it is a matter of a complex essence. Indeed, a complex essence cannot help but receive a complex existence; complex existence means existence successively received; and since this existence successively received must be always that of the same being, it must be successively and continuously received. Now, this is precisely the notion of time. We are in a universe where things will always be separated from themselves in duration.
This universe is bound to be spatial, for we have there a manifold of things which are specifically identical and individually diverse; that is to say, one thing will be exterior to another in homogenous fashion. Now, homogenous exteriority is essentially spatial: it causes one thing to be here and the other to be there. Our universe is therefore essentially a universe disintegrated and fragmented in space and time.
Now, a world cannot exist so as to be indefinitely separated from its own existence, and indefinitely separated from itself spatially. By the very fact that it is made for intellect, it is necessary that it be able to be present to itself; it is necessary that an intellect be able to bring back the entire ensemble to its principle, and that the world become a type of canticle. To arrive at this, it is necessary that time be checked and immobilized, and that space be entirely penetrated and present. Now, this cannot be except in an intellect, which is as such above space and above time. And our universe will be immobilized in the moment when intellect has made its conquest.
We are in a world which is moving towards a term, and which must enrich itself without ceasing. And it is precisely in this process of maturation which evolution consists.
And this is the process of maturation of our universe that I would like to describe in this series of lectures.
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1 Given the published parallel texts, the date is probably c. 1936. Also, De Koninck uses the word “nebulae” in place of what would later simply be called “galaxies,” thus corroborating this dating to pre-1940.
2 As Marina Olson pointed out to me, this ‘today’ can be contrasted against the ‘eternal now’ that names God’s duration.
3 Here, De Koninck repeats the substance of the first paragraph, as review; the following two paragraphs are also something of a reprise.
4 De Koninck’s draft has the erratum “le créature.”