Of God and His Creatures

Incidentally and indirectly, Sir Isaac Newton may be said to have done as much for theology and psychology as he has done directly for astronomy. He has banished from the speculations of the psychologist and the theologian all concern about the stars, all interest in corpus coeleste and primum mobile. He and his successors have wiped out for ever star-worship and astrology; and astronomy thus remaining on their hands, they have assorted it among the sciences to which it is nearest akin, namely, dynamics and chemistry, to trouble the metaphysician no more. -- Of old, men worshipped the stars, as the Hebrew prophets reproached the people with adoring all the host of heaven (4 Kings xxi, 3, 5: Ezech. viii, 16: Jer xix, 13: Amos v, 26: Acts vii, 42). When they had ceased to worship, men still believed in the stars, and star-carrying crystal spheres, affecting the origin and development of planets and animals on earth, and even human thoughts and elections. From these fancies Plato is fairly free: he speaks with scant respect for the stars in Rep. vii, 529. Nor do they go for much in the genuine writings of Aristotle. It was the Oriental genius of the Neo-Platonists, and after them the Arabians, that brought in the heavenly bodies to the perturbation of mental philosophy. Albertus Magnus and St Thomas followed this lead. I may refer to the original Latin of the Contra Gentiles, B. III, Chapp. XXII, XXIII, LXXXII-LXXXVIII, CIV, CV. St Thomas speaks of the 'heavenly bodies' meaning thereby, not the stars, but the star-bearing crystal spheres. The corpus coeleste, 'the heavenly body' par excellence with him, is the tenth and outermost crystalline sphere, which by its diurnal motion from east to west controls the motion of all inferior material things, and is called the primum mobile. St Thomas argues that this outermost sphere itself is moved by some intelligence, either by a soul animating it, or by an angel, or immediately by God. Through this primum mobile, St Thomas thinks, God governs the universe and fixes the qualities of the whole material universe. So the St Thomas of the thirteenth century, but no Aquinas Modernus. We must not build our theology on a mistaken astronomy. On the whole we may do well, following Newman's lead, to seek God certainly in the starry heavens, which are ever telling his glory (Ps. xviii), but to seek Him still more in the hearts and consciences of men, in the realm of mind rather than in the realm of matter. This, according to St Thomas, is the mode of natural cognition by which the angels know God, "through study of their own substances" (Chap. XLIX). And our soul is a spiritual substance also.

Of God and His Creatures: 3.24