God’s Power and Creative Act

We are now ready to embark upon our study of ScG, Book II. We begin with ScG, II.6–27. Since this is “in the middle” of things in the Contra Gentiles itself, and at the beginning of our of course, our work is somewhat complicated. We will

  1. discuss what Book II assumes from Book I, and how Book II is ordered, both in general and more specifically ScG, II.6–27,
  2. consider the nature of God’s creative power and relationship to the world (ScG, II.6–15),
  3. treat of the nature of creation itself (ScG, II.16–21)
  4. consider, more particularly, God’s omnipotence (ScG, II.22–27),
  5. and pause briefly to look ahead to upcoming weeks.

2.1. Creation, From the Top, Down

Since we are beginning “in the middle,” Book II assumes various things from Book I.

  • The three-fold way of speaking about God (cf. Pseudo-Dionysius et al.): by way of causality, by way of negation, and by way of eminence.
  • That God exists (known along the way of causality).
  • That God is not characterized by creaturely imperfections and limitations (negation).
  • That God is and has various perfective attributes (eminence).

Boethius (in Consolation) speaks of “the circle of divine simplicity.” We can name or describe God through our concepts of His created effects, but the mode of being which they have in God is beyond our immediate comprehension. Perfections such as good or wise are said of Him analogously.

Here is how Book II of the Summa contra Gentiles is divided as a whole:

[i] Discussion of the nature of this part of the work (II.1–5)
[1] The production of things in being (II.6–38)
[2] The distinction of things (II.39–45)
[3] The things thus produced and distinguished (II.46–101)
[a] The existence of intellectual substances (II.46–55)
[b] The human substance (union of soul & body; II.56–90)
[c] The angelic substances (II.91–101)

– An outline of ScG, II.6–27 (up to ch. 38, following Ferrariensis, with some modifications)

[1] The production of things in being (II.6–38)
[a] The essence or substance of creation, i.e. production in being (II.6–21)
[i] The principle of production (II.6–14)
[1] The principle itself, God (II.6–10)
– God is a principle of being (I.6)
– Thus, God has power (I.7), what it is (I.8–9), what it is like (I.10)
[2] The relations between creatures and God (II.11–14)
– Predicability of these relations (II.11)
– Being of these relations; itself (II.12) and their mode (II.13–14)
[ii] The terminus of production, viz., all beings (II.15)
[iii] The production itself, i.e., creation (II.16–21)
[1] Creation considered absolutely (II.16–19)
– The species or essence of creation (II.16)
– Certain things excluded from the ratio of creation (II.17–19)
– Creation is not motion (II.17), with corollaries (II.18)
– Creation has no succession (II.19)
[2] Creation considered re: the agent (II.20–21)
– No body can create (II.20)
– Only God can create (II.21)
[b] The characteristics of that production, i.e., creation (II.22–38)
[i] The extent of God’s power, i.e., not to one effect; omnipotence (II.22)
[ii] The mode of action of God’s power (II.23–38)
[1] The mode of action re: God (II.23–28)
(1st) God does not act by natural necessity (II.23–25)
– The proposition itself (II.23)
– 1st corollary: acts according to wisdom (II.24)
– 2nd corollary: how God is “unable” in certain ways (II.25)
(2nd) God does not act by intellectual necessity/limits (II.26)
(3rd) God does not act by voluntary necessity, but freely (II.27)
(4th) God does not act by necessity of justice (II.28)
[2] The action re: created beings (II.29–38) [This chapters, along with ch. 28, in Week 3]

Note how [1, a] is ordered, according to Ferrariensis. The pedagogical logic is compared to production in terms of our experience, but much of the work is a via negativa to contrast creation with bringing things into being by way of motion or change (motio vel mutatio).

2.2. God’s Creative Power and Relationship to Creation (ScG, II.6–15)

When considering ScG, II.6–10, we should contrast God as having (and being) power with created agents in our experience. Note the via negativa here (are there any of the other ways?).

Created agents in our experienceGod’s agency and power (ScG, II.6–10)
– They are principles of the being of other things.6: God is also the principle of being of things.
– They are both passive and active principles.7: God thus has power, but only active power.
– Their substance is not their acting as principles.8: God’s substance and action are not different realities.
– Their ability to act is not the same as their acting.9: God’s power and its action are not different realities.
– Can be principles of real action within and without.10: God’s power is said in regard to transitive effects.
Comparison of created agency with divine agency.

Why is it necessary to establish God as a principle of being (and thus, having power)?

Then, in ScG, II.11–14, we consider God’s relationship to the world. How does having a relationship follow upon being a principle?

Relations are difficult beings to think about.

  1. “Since relation has the weakest being (since it consists only in this, that it holds itself towards another), it is necessary that it be founded upon some other accident.” – In Phys., III.1, n. 6
  2. “Motion is called ‘action’ insofar as it is the act of the agent as from that; however, it is called ‘passion’ insofar as it is the the act of the patient as in this.” – In Phys., III.5, n. 13
  3. “It does not follow, even though the teaching and learning [doctio et doctrina] of the student are the same, that to teach [docere] and to learn [addiscere] are the same. Because teaching and learning are said in the abstract, while to teach and to learn are said in the concrete. Whence they are applied to the ends or the termini according to which one derives a diverse account of action and passion. For just as we may say that there is the same space between distant things, abstractly considered, nonetheless when we connect [it] to the termini of the space it is not one and the same, as when we say that this is distant from that or that from this.” – In Phys., III.5, n. 12
  4. (A) “Such a distinction between categorical relatives and transcendental relatives does not require that [the relation in question] be a real relation. For there are certain categorical relations which are not real (as right and left in a column), and there are certain transcendental relations which nonetheless import real relations (as is clear in the case of knowledge and sensation). …” (B) “… For things are called categorical relatives [secundum esse] when names are imposed to signify the relationships themselves. However, they are called transcendental relatives [secundum dici] when names are imposed to signify qualities or something of the sort principally, upon which relations still follow.” – St. Thomas, De Potentia, q. 7, a. 10, ad 11

We should distinguish real relations from rational relations. They are distinguished based upon the presence or absence of certain conditions of order. For real relations, (1) both relata must exist, (2) they must be distinct in reality, and (3) they must have some basis that makes one orderable to the other. Thus, father and son are really related because both are beings, they are really distinct, and there is a basis for the order between them, namely, generation and being generated.

Rational relations arise when one of the conditions is absent. In these cases, the rational relation is either attributed to relata in the mind (e.g., the relationship between genus and species) or the relation is attributable to real things due to the mind being forced, by a kind of necessity, to relate those things precisely insofar as it understands them. This is the case because there is some remote foundation in reality even for rational relations. For instance, tomorrow is after today (which condition fails in this case?).

categorical relations (secundum esse)transcendental relations (secundum dici)
real relationscategorically real e.g., double & half; father & sontranscendentally real e.g., knowledge to known; sensation to sensed
rational relationscategorically rational e.g., left & right in column; genus & speciestranscendentally rational e.g., categorical relation to its subject
A division of relations.

Some relations are real on one side and rational on the other. (What are some examples?)

We should also consider, along these lines, the so-called “Cambridge changes” (e.g., my son growing taller than me; I am now shorter—did I change?).

Hopefully the above distinctions can help us understand how God is related to creation.

Relationships between agents we experienceGod’s relationship to creation (ScG, II.11–14)
– A principle or moving cause is related to its effect.11: God is also related to His effects.
– In some cases, this relation is an accident of the agent.12: God’s relationship to creatures is not an accident.
– Real relations are categorical accidents.13: Such a relation is a “rational” one, but a true one.
– Such accidents introduce complexity in their agents.14: These names of relation preserve God’s simplicity.
Continuation of the comparison between created and divine agency.

Let us take a closer look at ScG, II.15, the terminus of creation is “all beings”.

ScG, II.15: That God is the cause of being to all things (which is the clearest argument to us?)
1st: Something cannot belong per se and first to more than one kind, but must have a cause; “being” is such
2nd: Something cannot be more or less if it arises from nature/essence; and “being” is such for all apart from God
3rd: A universal effect proportioned to a universal cause; thus, “being” :: first universal cause of being
4th: What is by participation reduces to what is per se; “being” is such …
5th: Because the contingent must resolve to the necessary, and the necessary to the per se necessary, which is one
6th: Because God contains the perfections of all things virtualiter, thus nothing can be apart from imitating Him
7th: Because God is the most perfect being and highest good, which must be one

Brief Interlude

Consider two quotes in conclusion. Yes, the second is from Twitter. Does the views expressed comport with St. Thomas’s understanding of God’s relationship to the world?

According to this theory [Lovejoy’s account of creation], everything that exists has existed, in some form or other, in God, as one of his ‘perfections’. Thus even the creation has made no essential change: it only transformed some of the pre-existing intrinsic perfections of the Creator into his creation. Thus the cause either equals the effect or is greater than the effect (in which case it is not only prior to the effect, but outlasts the effect); yet the effect is always present in the cause. This means that, in reality, nothing happens; or at any rate, nothing that can make an essential difference: no intrinsic novelty can emerge. Thus with all its abundance and diversity, the mediaeval world is still the offspring of Parmenides’s block universe.

Karl R. Popper, The World of Parmenides: Essays on the Presocratic Enlightenment (New York/London: Routledge, 2012), 187.

2.3. “Creatio non est motus neque mutatio” (ScG, II.16–21)

Note how the beginnings of II.6 and II.15 are related. St. Thomas argues along these lines:

  • principle (power [relation]) in II.6–14 … “[Aquinas thinks that] God can be, or even be truly said to become to be, the creator of me without himself having changed in any real way.”
  • principle (of all being [creation!]) in II.15–21

For reference, here is II.15 again:

ScG, II.15: That God is the cause of being to all things (which is the clearest argument to us?)
1st: Something cannot belong per se and first to more than one kind, but must have a cause; “being” is such
2nd: Something cannot be more or less if it arises from nature/essence; and “being” is such for all apart from God
3rd: A universal effect proportioned to a universal cause; thus, “being” :: first universal cause of being
4th: What is by participation reduces to what is per se; “being” is such …
5th: Because the contingent must resolve to the necessary, and the necessary to the per se necessary, which is one
6th: Because God contains the perfections of all things virtualiter, thus nothing can be apart from imitating Him
7th: Because God is the most perfect being and highest good, which must be one

Let us look more closely at the first argument.

  • Why is it “impossible for any one thing to belong to two things, and to both of them as such”?
  • If such a “thing” belongs to many things, what is the reason for this?
  • What is the significance of the premise “Now ‘being’ is said of everything that is”?
  • What objection does St. Thomas answer at the end of the first argument?

Note also the errors which are excluded by the arguments in II.15. How are the two errors related?

Once St. Thomas has established that God is the cause of being of everything, it is a short step to II.16: this production must be creation, the production of beings out of no pre-existing matter (ex nihilo). Dizzyingly, Aquinas advances eleven arguments for this conclusion.

ScG, II.16: That God brought things into being out of nothing
1st: Because this would result in an infinite series of material causes (n.b. non-temporal)
2nd: Because God is not a particular agent and so does not require a particular pre-existing material
3rd: Because God is an agent above moving and transmuting agents, so no matter needed
4th: Because God is a universal cause, not a particular one acting via motion or change
5th: Because every agent makes its like; so God makes subsistent beings, not more limited changes
6th: Because in God there is no pre-existing agent-patient dyad, since God is by essence His action
7th: While matter’s potency :: agent’s power, matter does not have infinite potency re: God’s power
8th: Comparing spiritual and celestial and terrestrial, there is not even one univocal “matter” ex qua anyways
9th: Were there pre-existing matter, its relationship to God not by chance, and not by some third, but from God
10th: Because act is prior to potency; thus matter cannot be among the first things and God alone, pure act, is first
11th: Because God causes prime matter itself (cf. II.15), so no pre-existing matter is available.

Which of these arguments is clearest to us? Is II.15 a background premise in each one or only some?

After establishing the fact of creation ex nihilo, St. Thomas then turns to consider the nature of creation and its implications, both as to creation itself (II.17–19) and creative agents (II.20–21). In discussing these points, we should notice how they modify the “model” of agent causality which we can glean from our experience.

Agent causality model in our sense experienceCreation as God’s causality
Agents need pre-existing materialGod does not (II.16, 2nd argument)
These are usually “particular” agents w/finite “ranges”God is not a particular agent (II.16, 4th)
Causal processes involve motion (potency → act)Creation has no prior potency (II.17, 1st)
Changes work upon a prior subject-matterCreation is ex nihilo, no prior subject (II.17, 3rd)
The agent’s action on the patient relates the twoCreation is a relation in the creature (II.18)
The process of change requires succession in timeCreation has no succession, it’s not a motion (II.19, 1st)
The process involves time because of mid-contrariesCreation is between non-being and being (II.19, 2nd)
This succession arises from divisibility of bodiesCreation “works on” no prior, divisible subject (II.19, 4th)
Agents also prep/dispose for changes in patientsCreation has no prior subject for such prep (II.19, 5th)
All bodies act successively, or in timeNo succession in creation; no body can create (II.20, 1st)
All bodies act through motionCreation is not a motion; no body can create (II.20, 2nd)
No body acts with infinite powerBut creation requires infinite power (II.20, 4th)
No body acts without some sort of contactBut creation cannot be by contact (II.20, 5th)

This exhaustive via negativa allows St. Thomas to introduce nine arguments in ScG, II.21 that it belongs to God alone to create. That is, instrumental creation is impossible. Note what we learn about instrumental causality here (especially in II.21, the 5th and 6th arguments).

St. Thomas has occasion to discuss instruments in a variety of contexts, from which one can form a more complete notion of what an instrumental cause is.

  • First, an instrument qua instrument does not act according to its own natural power: the carpenter’s hammer does not drive the nail of itself. It retains this power to be a mover only while it retains the influence of the principal agent.
  • Furthermore, an instrumental cause exercises its causality through a type of motion. 
  • Also, the reason why an instrument is used by a principal agent is because of the fittingness of the instrument as a medium between the principal agent and the intended effect; thus, different types of hammers are used in various circumstances. 
  • So, an instrument is also directed towards an end which it does not naturally possess. The hammer is used by the carpenter to realize forms which exceed the power of the hammer to produce on its own, for the hammer of itself cannot move. Scissors themselves, when cutting shapes in paper, do not possess the shape which they effect except through the influence of the principal agent.
  • Still, the instrumental agent is chosen for its aptitude or fittingness precisely because of some proper action that is connatural to it, which connatural action is proportionate to the intended end. Thus, the hammer is chosen for its hardness, or certain types of scissors for their sharpness and size with an eye to the intended incision.
  • The notion of an instrumental cause can be gleaned from St. Thomas’s remarks in many places besides denying the possibility of instrumental creation. Another place is the De Anima, since the soul is the very form of an organic (instrumental) body. Again, in revealed theology, St. Thomas considers the notion of instrumentality when discussing the Hypostatic Union and the theandric operations of Christ, the mode of causality belonging to the Sacraments as physical signs productive of what they signify (viz., a spiritual, supernatural effect), as well as the mode in which the glorified bodies of the saints will make use of their senses.

Why is it important to clarify that there is no instrumental creation? What errors does this refute?

Note on II.19 and the atemporal character of creation

Our discussions next week will need to recall that creation does not require time. Note whom St. Thomas quotes at the end of ScG, II.19, glossing the first line of Sacred Scripture: St. Basil’s first homily from Homilies on the Hexaemeron (hex: six, hêmera: day). The context:

It appears, indeed, that even before this world an order of things existed of which our mind can form an idea, but of which we can say nothing, because it is too lofty a subject for men who are but beginners and are still babes in knowledge. The birth of the world was preceded by a condition of things suitable for the exercise of supernatural powers, outstripping the limits of time, eternal and infinite. The Creator and Demiurge of the universe perfected His works in it, spiritual light for the happiness of all who love the Lord, intellectual and invisible natures, all the orderly arrangement of pure intelligences who are beyond the reach of our mind and of whom we cannot even discover the names. They fill the essence of this invisible world, as Paul teaches us. “For by him were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible whether they be thrones or dominions or principalities or powers” Colossians 1:16 or virtues or hosts of angels or the dignities of archangels. To this world at last it was necessary to add a new world, both a school and training place where the souls of men should be taught and a home for beings destined to be born and to die. Thus was created, of a nature analogous to that of this world and the animals and plants which live thereon, the succession of time, for ever pressing on and passing away and never stopping in its course. Is not this the nature of time, where the past is no more, the future does not exist, and the present escapes before being recognised? And such also is the nature of the creature which lives in time — condemned to grow or to perish without rest and without certain stability. It is therefore fit that the bodies of animals and plants, obliged to follow a sort of current, and carried away by the motion which leads them to birth or to death, should live in the midst of surroundings whose nature is in accord with beings subject to change. Thus the writer who wisely tells us of the birth of the Universe does not fail to put these words at the head of the narrative. “In the beginning God created;” that is to say, in the beginning of time. Therefore, if he makes the world appear in the beginning, it is not a proof that its birth has preceded that of all other things that were made. He only wishes to tell us that, after the invisible and intellectual world, the visible world, the world of the senses, began to exist.

St. Basil the Great, Homilies on the Hexaemeron, Homily 1, n. 5 (New Advent translation: https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/32011.htm).

Here, the “in the beginning” is glossed as a temporal beginning, at least of the visible world. Why not the angelic world? (Does St. Thomas agree with this view of a prior angelic “world”?)

2.4. God’s Omnipotence (ScG, II.22–27; ch. 28 for later)

We should recall from “Lecture Notes for Week 2A” the order of the chapters here. In various ways, these chapters explain the divine freedom in creation. One aspect of this is positive: God is omnipotent. The other aspect is negative: God is not bound in various ways. As to the first, what does this mean? “Aquinas’s account of omnipotence in the SCG does not depend on analyses of whay might or might not be.” Let’s take a closer look at one of the arguments for God’s omnipotence: II.22, 2nd:

  • What is the definition of “power” assumed at the outset?
  • What is the object of God’s power?
  • What is the “notion of being”? How does this help us to “omnipotence”?

Now, the various elements of divine freedom in creation can appear against the background that God has no limitations of ability.

  • God does not act by natural necessity (II.23)
    • God acts according to wisdom (II.24)
    • God is “unable to do” some things (II.25)
  • God is not limited by His knowledge (II.26)
  • God is not limited by His will (II.27)
  • God does not act by necessity of justice (II.28)

We should discuss in what ways these limitations would and would not be limits to God’s freedom.

We should also look more closely at two arguments.

Here is one: ScG, II.24, 4th argument.

1. Things that proceed from the will are either things that may be done (such as acts of virtue, which are the perfections of the doer), or they pass into outward matter, and are things that can be made. It is clear, then, that created things proceed from God as made. 

2. Now the reason about things to be made is art, as the Philosopher says. 

C1/3. Therefore, all created things are compared to God as products of art to the craftsman.

4. But the craftsman brings his handiwork into being by the ordering of his wisdom and intellect.

C2: Therefore, God also made all creatures by the ordering of his intellect [i.e., his wisdom].

Here is another: ScG, II.26, 5th argument:

1. God’s knowledge is compared to things produced by him as the knowledge of the craftsman to his handiwork. Now every art extends to all the things that can be comprised under the genus subject to that art: thus the art of building extends to all houses. 

2. Now the genus subject to the divine art is being, since God by his intellect is the universal principle of being, as we have proved (ch. 15). 

C1/3. Therefore, the divine intellect extends its causality to whatever is not incompatible with the notion of being, for all such things, considered in themselves, are of a nature to be contained under being. 

C2:Therefore, the divine intellect is not confined to certain determined effects. [implied premise 4?]

We should discuss: What are limitations to these arguments? Are the probable or demonstrative? What do the reveal about the nature of God’s creative act?

2.5. Conclusion and Transition

What lies ahead? Our task next week will be to grapple with a famous medieval debate about the eternity of the world. Some Greek and Arabic philosophers held that the world was, in fact, eternal. Others denied this, maintaining that the world has a finite past. What is St. Thomas’s view? Note that II.32–37 contain an extended, six-part dialectic on this issue.

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