CT 95: Immediate Creation By God

In the previous chapter, Thomas showed that the human soul, being immaterial, must be created directly by God ex nihilo, out of nothing. Now he continues,

The doctrine established above necessarily leads to the conclusion that things that cannot be brought into existence except by creation, come immediately from God.

Only God can create from nothing, and so anything that can only be created from nothing must be created by God. OK, I’ll buy that.

This, on the other hand, is clearly wrong:

Thus the heavenly bodies, as is manifest, cannot be produced except by creation. They cannot be said to be made from some preexisting matter, for then they would be capable of generation and corruption, and would also be subject to contrariety. But they are not, as their motion proves. For they move in circles, and circular motion has no contrary. Consequently the heavenly bodies were produced immediately by God.

Contraries are two propositions that cannot both be true. I do not see why circular motion has no contrary—the planet is at point A, and sometime later it is at point B; in fact, every point on the circle is the contrary of every other point. And, of course, we know now that the planets are bodies much like the Earth and subject to the same forces.

Just as an aside, C.S. Lewis has a neat book, The Discarded Image, which describes the image the average educated person would have had of the cosmos during the Midieval period.

Similarly the elements, regarded as complete units, do not come from any pre-existing matter. Anything that would thus pre-exist would have some form. And thus some body, other than the elements, would exist prior to them in the order of material cause. But if the matter existing prior to the elements had a distinct form, one of the elements would have to be prior to the others in the same order, supposing that the pre-existing matter had the form of an element. Therefore the very elements must have been produced immediately by God.

Here Thomas is speaking of the four elements, Air, Earth, Fire, and Water. But ignore that. The “elements” of any thing are the simplest beginnings of that thing. Euclid’s Elements, for examples, shows how all of plane geometry derives from the elements of geometry, a handful of definitions, axioms, and postulates. Consequently, the elements of matter are not Air, Earth, Fire, and Water, nor even the elements of the periodic table, but the most basic building blocks of which matter is constructed. When I was a kid, we might have said that these were protons, neutrons, and electrons; now we know that the situation is considerably more complicated. But whatever these smallest beginnings are, they are not made of anything else, or they wouldn’t really be the elements in the sense Thomas uses the word.

And these elements, since they cannot be produced from anything else in the material order, must necessarily then have been created by God. That’s rather cool.

It is even more impossible for incorporeal and invisible substances to be created by some one else, for all such substances are immaterial. Matter cannot exist unless it is subject to dimension, whereby it is capable of being marked off, so that many things can be made from the same matter. Hence immaterial substances cannot be made from pre-existing matter.

I’m not sure just what the argument is, here. Is Thomas saying that anything created of matter has dimension, that is, has a body, and consequently is corporeal?

In any event, I can’t see how you could make an immaterial substance out of matter, pre-existing or not.

Consequently they can be produced only by God through creation. For this reason the Catholic faith professes that God is the “Creator of heaven and earth, and of all things visible,” and also “of all things invisible.”

Yup, that we do.

One Response to “CT 95: Immediate Creation By God”

  1. Brandon says:

    I think you’re basically right about the line of thought in the incorporeal substances case; the reasoning is something like this:

    (1) Many things can be made from matter.
    (2) What makes this possible is that matter always has dimension, which allows this material thing (or part) to be distinguished from that one.
    (3) Therefore things without dimension cannot be material.
    (4) So incorporeal and invisible substances cannot be material.
    (5) Therefore they cannot be made from pre-existing matter.

    And obviously the reason for getting (4) from (3) would have to be that the substances in question are incorporeal, and thus not bodies (which are material things with dimension).