The Heavens and the Glory of God

We continue our study of Summa contra Gentiles, Book III. The plan is as follows:

  1. discuss the lay of the land, an outline of topics;
  2. the divine likeness in the cosmos;
  3. cosmology and intellectual movers and designers; 
  4. some concluding thoughts and questions.

10.1. The Approach to the Ultimate Good

Below is how Summa contra Gentiles, Book III, might be outlined, focusing on III.16–24:

10.2. A Universe and Its Creatures, Like Unto God (ScG, III.16, 17–21)

The arguments in these chapters focus the claims of the previous chapters. 

  • Chapter 16 serves as a reminder that all things act for an end which is their own good. That phrase, “their own good,” moves from a generic “good” to a specific idea.
  • Chapter 17 then connects that specific idea to a universal one, namely, all things in acting or striving for their good are also ordered to God as the good of all things.
    • The series of arguments for this conclusion are of increasingly intensive causality.
    • (5th) The particular goods in the universe are ordered to a common good, viz., God.
    • (6th) God is the supreme agent and thus determines the end of everything, without exception, and that end must be himself.
    • Chapter 18 then clarifies how God is the end of all things by noting how He is not such an end. As one theologian notes, “It is not hard to recognize in these rejected positions an uncannily perceptive anticipation of the emasculated modern simulacra of teleology as one can encounter them in Kant, Hegel, and process philosophy.” (Reinhard Hütter, “Aquinas on the Natural Desire for the Vision of God: A Relecture of Summa Contra Gentiles III, c. 25 après Henri De Lubac,” The Thomist 73, no. 4 (2009): 523–91, at 544.)
      • (1st) There is nothing outside of God as a possibility for such an end, since God is the end of all things as both prior in intention and in causing as a being (like the king who wants to capture a city).
      • (2nd) God is not “achieved” by the creature as an end that the made, for “the end effected by the agent’s action cannot be the first agent, but rather is it the agent’s effect.”
      • (3rd) The end must be God Himself, for unlike soldiers fighting for their general, creatures cannot accrue some benefit to God, but the end must be God.
      • (4th) God as an end is not such that He acquires what He did not already have, but He is an end so that others share in Him—the good is diffusive of itself.—“Things, therefore, are not directed to God as to an end that can gain something, but that they may obtain himself from him according to their measure [suo modo], since he is their end.
    • Then Chapters 19–21 clarify how we share in God’s goodness: by likeness.
      • Chapter 19 argues in various ways that all things by tending towards God as the good also tend towards becoming like unto him; for example:
        • “All creatures are images of the first agent, namely God, since the agent produces its like. Now the perfection of an image consists in representing the original by its likeness to it, for this is why an image is made. Therefore, all things are for the purpose of acquiring a divine similitude as their last end.” (4th argument)
      • Chapter 20 then adds that this likening unto God happens in various ways.
        • For none can be like God’s goodness in the same mode, because of God’s simplicity and His being His own being. Rather, there is a distinction of how different grades of goodness are constituted: God, angels, and composite substances (whether incorruptible, heavenly substances or the corruptible, earthly substances).
        • Among the corruptible composite substances, we learn that the good consists in order: “Good is founded on order: for a thing is said to be good not merely because it is an end, or possesses the end, but it is said to be good as long as it is directed to the end (even if it has not attained the end).” Thus, form, matter and the composite are all good simply speaking (in diverse ways); we learn that the good absolutely speaking is, in a way, more than being: bonum se extendit ad existentia et non existentia (Dionysius).
      • Chapter 21 concludes that creatures attain this divine likeness, in their own modes, via their various operations by being causes of other things.

An important text that is found later on, in ScG, III.24, concerns the four levels of a thing’s own good. It is important for the overall hierarchy of goodness in created agents in the universe:

A thing’s own good can be understood in several ways.

  • First, in the sense that it is proper to that thing on the part of the individual. Thus an animal desires its own good when it desires food, whereby its existence is preserved. 
  • Second, as being proper to that thing on the part of its species. Thus an animal desires its own good insofar as it desires to beget an infant and to feed it, as well as whatever else conduces to the preservation or defense of the individuals of its species. 
  • Third, on the part of the genus. And thus an equivocal agent (for instance, the heaven) desires its own good in causing. 
  • Fourth, on the part of a likeness of analogy between effect and cause. Thus God, who is outside all genera, gives being to all things on account of his own goodness. This clearly proves that the more perfect a thing’s power and the higher its degree of goodness, the more universal is its desire for good and the greater the range of goodness to which its appetite and operation extend.

This increasingly encompassing finality in the universe is important for intellectual creatures: 

Contrary to those beings whose perfection comes about simply by their nature and which hence are brought to perfection by entelechy, the intellectual substance needs to understand its proper good in light of the bonum communi for it to become its proper end or, differently put, the end of its proper perfection.

Hütter, “Aquinas on the Natural Desire for the Vision of God,” 550.

10.3. Thomistic Cosmology and Its “Anthropic Principle” (ScG, III.22–24)

The creature’s likeness to God is attained especially through operation. In ScG, III.22, a certain hierarchy of agency is sketched out: (1) agents by immanent operation (understanding, sensation, will); (2) agents by transitive operation (whether intellectual, heavenly, or terrestrial); (3) agents that are moved movers; (4) lower bodies that are (pretty much) only moved. The central problem here is cosmological. How do all things become like God in their various ways (“suo modo”) while also interacting within one universe? Because achieving the good of causal agency also makes things like unto God.

(1) The Finality of Cosmological Agency

What is the end of the agency of creatures? Here, too, the central question is cosmological. To what end do all the heavenly bodies move? The heavens sustain the terrestrial in general:

Just as in this lower world the intention of the particular agent is confined to good of this or that species, so is the intention of the celestial body inclined to the common good of the corporeal substance, which is preserved, multiplied, and increased by generation. (III.22)

St. Thomas then specifies this general argument in a few steps:

  1. To a universal agency such as the heavens, there must correspond a universal end.
  2. The order of generated forms shows that “the last end of all generation is the human soul, and to this does matter tend as its ultimate form.
  3. There is also an order of preservation that supports the same conclusion: “The order of the preservation of things is in keeping with the aforesaid order of their generation.”

Now, a good part of the support for (2) is found in St. Thomas’s outdated biological account of human gestation. However, what if the order of gestation here were transposed to describe the order of evolution? Certain people have suggested this. (For one, see Charles De Koninck in The Cosmos, in The Writings of Charles De Koninck: Volume One, ed. and trans. by R. McInerny (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008), 235–354, at 289 et passim.) That is, the order of generated forms that are each for the sake of the human form is a rough sketch of a possible teleological ordering within evolution. But we must be careful:

Here we find, at one and the same time, a hierarchy of (transcategorical) degrees and a general tendency toward higher degrees, and toward the ultimate degree which is that of the intellective soul or of the human being. What does this mean, if not that St. Thomas, who had no idea of what we call Evolution, has given us in advance, in chapter 22 of Book III of Contra Gentes that we have read, the true basis of a philosophy of Evolution and the metaphysical principles of a truly evolutionist thought. All we have to do is add the historical dimension and to extend so to speak through the course of Time the hierarchy of degrees of perfection which we have been considering: at one stroke we have the Evolution of the material cosmos and of living beings, in a philosophical view that is in accord with that image of Evolution which science, on its own epistemological level, tries somehow or other to give each of us.

Jacques Maritain, “Towards a Thomist Idea of Evolution,” in Untrammeled Approaches, ed. by R. M. McInerny, F. Crosson, and F. Doering, trans. by B. Doering, 20:85–131, The Collected Works of Jacques Maritain (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1997), 91.

(2) The Intelligence behind Cosmological Agency

After establishing the above ultimate and specific end of cosmological agent causality, St. Thomas then argues, in ScG, III.23, that this agency is evidence for a directive intelligence. For instance, consider his first argument:

For nothing that acts according to its own species intends a form higher than its own, since every agent intends its like. Now a heavenly body, insofar as it acts by its own movement, intends the ultimate form, which is the human intellect, which is higher than any corporeal form, as we have proved above. Therefore, the heavenly body acts for generation not in respect of its own species, as the principal agent does, but in respect of the species of some higher intellectual agent, in relation to which the heavenly body is like an instrument in relation to a principal agent. Now the heaven acts to the effect of generation inasmuch as it is moved. Therefore, the heavenly body is moved by some intellectual substance.

That is, the heavenly bodies as such cannot be the cause of the coming to be of the human, spiritual form; this deficit of causal efficacy is evidence that there is a higher agency at work. The heavens form, as it were, a man-making machine, a crucible of sub-creation for the human species.

St. Thomas’s connection of cosmological agency to the end-goal of bringing about human life is something like “anthropic principles” in modern cosmology, which are “attempts to account for the fact that the universe’s parameters are fine-tuned in a manner that is requisite for the appearance of life, and in particular of intelligent life.” (Marie I. George, “On the Tenth Anniversary of Barrow and Tipler’s Anthropic Cosmological Principle: Thomistic Reflections on Anthropic Principles,” American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 72, no. 1 (1998): 39–58, at 40.)

A “Thomistic Anthropic Principle” in ScG, III.23–24?Comparisons
III.23.3: “These bodies [the elements] cannot be generated, because there is no contrariety in them, and their movements cannot be hindered. Therefore, these bodies must be moved by things that cause movement by a power of apprehension, which power cannot be sensitive, as we have proved. Therefore, it must be an intellective power.”Perhaps the genesis of the fundamental particles aligns with this, as these conditions require “fine-tuning”.
III.23.4: “Now one place is not more due to a heavenly body in respect of its form than another. Therefore, nature alone is not the principle of the heavenly movement. Consequently, the principle of its movement must be something that moves it by apprehension.”There is a certain contingency in physical parameters or the location of bodies in space.
III.23.9: “That the heavenly movement is voluntary in respect of its active principle is not inconsistent with the fact that it is one and uniform, because the will is indifferent to many things and is not determined to any one. For just as nature is determined to one by its power, so is the will determined to one by its wisdom, by which the will is unerringly directed to one end.”Cosmological “design” is not incompatible with active direction from intelligent agents.
III.24.4-5: “For, as the arrow receives its direction to a fixed end through the aim of the archer, so too natural bodies receive an inclination to their natural ends from their natural movers, from which they derive their forms, powers and movements. Therefore, it is also clear that every work of nature is the work of an intelligent substance, because an effect is ascribed more especially to the direction of the first mover towards the end than to the instruments which receive that direction. For this reason the operations of nature are seen to proceed in an orderly manner, even as the operations of a wise man.”Note the same analogy is present in the 5th Way, and for a similar reason: the agency of over a lower body’s motion can include as effect its form, powers, and motions which the body cannot give itself.

Note carefully the correction to the translation for the conclusion to III.23:

As long as we admit that the heavenly movement is caused by an intellectual substance, it does not make any difference as to the present question whether the heavenly body be moved by an intellectual substance united to it, so as to be its soul, or by a separate substance: nor whether each heavenly body be moved by God immediately; or none, and each be moved by the intermediary of created intellectual substances; or only the first heavenly body by God immediately, and the others through the intermediary of created substances.

Note also how, at the end of ScG, III.24, this ordering of the heavens to the generation of the human form does not make these higher bodies “subservient,” since they are really thus fulfilling their role in the cosmological order: “For they are not for the sake of these as their last end: but by intending the generation of these, they intend their own good, and the divine likeness as their last end.”

10.4. Is There More to a Natural Desire for God? (About ScG, III.25)

Some closing points:

  • Our tour of the chapters leading up to ScG, III.25 has focused upon natural agency, and we have seen that the participation in non-intellectual substances in the God’s goodness is arranged, within the scheme of the cosmos, for the sake of human beings.
  • Note that this ordering to divine likeness is for non-intellectual things their natural desire for God.
  • Since we no longer defend the higher nobility of celestial substances, it is perhaps even clearer how cosmological agency is for the sake of human beings (we do not have to worry about the appearance that the higher serves the lower).
  • However, we must still investigate the special case of the created intelligences’s likeness to God, especially the human case.

One thought on “The Heavens and the Glory of God

"Sed contra" or "Distinguo" or "Amplius" below ...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s