EXCERPTS FROM ST. THOMAS ON CREATION
De Potentia Dei, ques. 3, art. 1, "Is God able to create something from nothing?"
I reply: One should reply that it must be held firmly that God is able to, and does [in fact], create something from nothing. To make this evident one should note that every agent acts to the extent that it is in act; this is why it is necessary that an action be attributed to an agent in the manner in which it belongs to that agent to be in act. Now a particularized [particularis] thing is in act in a partial manner [particulariter], and this in two senses: (i) by comparison to itself, for it is not the case that its whole substance is act, since things of this sort are composed of matter and form, and this is why a natural entity does not act with respect to itself as a whole, but instead acts through its form, through which it is in act; and (ii) in comparison to those things that are in act, since it is not the case that the acts and perfections of all the things that are in act are included in any natural thing. Instead, each such thing has an act determined to one genus and to one species; and hence it is that no such thing is an active cause of a being insofar as it is a being, but is instead an active cause of that being insofar as it is this being, determined to this or that species. For an agent effects what is similar to itself.
And this is why a natural agent does not produce being simpliciter, but instead produces being that preexists and is determined to this or to that, e.g., to this species of fire, or to whiteness, or to something of the sort. And because of this a natural agent acts by moving, and so it requires matter, which is the subject of the change or motion; and for this reason a natural agent cannot make something from nothing. By contrast, God Himself is totally act, both (i) in comparison to Himself, since he is pure act who does not have potency mixed in, and (ii) in comparison with the things that are in act, since in Him lies the origin of all beings. Hence, through His action He produces the entire subsisting being, with nothing presupposed, since He is a principle of all esse and of esse with respect to itself as a whole. And because of this He is able to create something from nothing; and this action is called creation.
And hence it is that in the Liber de Causis it is claimed that the esse of a thing is through creation, but that its living and other things of this sort are through being informed. For the causings of being are traced back without qualification to the first universal cause, whereas the causing of the other things which are superadded to esse, or by which esse is rendered specific, pertains to secondary causes, which act by informing, since the effect of the universal cause is, as it were, presupposed. And this is why it is also true that no entity gives esse except insofar as there is in it a participation in the divine power. For this reason it is also said in the Liber de Causis that a noble soul has a divine operation insofar as it gives esse.
De Potentia Dei, ques. 3, art. 4, "Is the power of creating, or the act of creation, able to be communicated to a creature?"
I reply: One should reply that it was the position of certain philosophers that God created the inferior creatures through the mediation of the superior creatures, as is clear in the Liber de Causis and in Avicenna's Metaphysica and in al-Ghazali. And they were moved to this opinion because they believed that (i) only one thing could come forth immediately from the one simple being, and that (ii) it was by the mediation of this thing that a multitude proceeded from the one first being. But they used to say this as if God acted by a necessity of nature, a mode through which it is the case that only one thing can come to be from one simple being.
We, however, claim that things proceed from God through the mode of knowledge and intellect, a mode according to which nothing prevents a multitude from proceeding immediately from the one first and simple God, since his wisdom contains all things together. And so we claim, in accord with the Catholic faith, that God immediately created all spiritual substances and the matter of [all] bodily substances, and we deem it heretical to say that something is created through an angel or through any creature. Thus Damascene says, "If anyone claims that an angel creates anything, let him be anathema."
Still, some Catholic writers have claimed that even though no creature is able to create anything, nonetheless it can be communicated to a creature that God should create something through its ministry [per eius ministerium]. And this is what the Master claims in Sentences I, dist. 5.
By contrast, others claim that it can in no way be communicated to a creature that it should create something. This is the more commonly held position.
Now to make these points clear one should note that 'creation' denominates an active power by which things are brought into being [esse]; and this is why creation does not presuppose either a preexisting matter or a prior agent. (These are the only causes that are [ever] presupposed for an action, since the form of what is generated is the terminus of the action of that which generates it, and that form is also the end of the generation, an end which does not precede the action in being but instead follows upon it.)
For it is clear from the very definition of the name that creation does not presuppose matter; for what is said to be created is that which comes to be from nothing [ex nihilo]. Moreover, [the thesis] that creation does not presuppose any prior agent cause is evident from Augustine, De Trinitate III, where he proves that the angels are not creators from the fact that they operate on the seeds, instilled in nature, which are the active powers in nature.
So if creation is taken strictly in the above sense, then it is clear that creation can belong only to the primary agent. For a secondary cause acts only by virtue of the influence [ex influentia] of the first cause, and so every action of a secondary cause presupposes a [prior] agent cause.
What's more, the philosophers themselves did not claim that the angels or intelligences create anything except through the divine power existing in them. So we see that a secondary cause can have two actions: one by its proper nature [ex propria natura], the other by the power of a prior cause [ex virtute prioris causae]. Now it is impossible that a secondary cause should by its own power be the principle of esse as such [principium esse inquantum huiusmodi]. For this is proper to the first cause, since the order of effects follows the order of causes.
But the first effect is esse itself, which is presupposed by all other effects and does not itself presuppose any other effect. And this is why it must be the case that to give esse as such is the effect of the first cause alone by its own power. And if any other cause gives esse, it does so insofar as the power and operation of the first cause are in it and not through its own power--in the way that an instrument effects an instrumental action not through the power of its own nature but through the power of that which moves it. For example, natural heat generates living flesh through the power of the soul, whereas through the power of its own nature it only heats and dissolves.
And this is the sense in which certain philosophers have claimed that the first intelligences are the creators of the second intelligences, viz., that they give them esse through the power of the first cause which is in them. For esse comes through creation, whereas goodness and life and other things of this sort come through being informed, as it says in the Liber de Causis. And this was a principle of idolatry, since the cult of worship was bestowed upon the created substances themselves as if upon the creators of the others.
However, in Sentences IV the Master claims that it is communicable to a creature not that it should create by its own power, as if by its own authority, but that it should create by its ministry, as if it is an instrument. But to one who studies the matter carefully this appears to be impossible. For the action of a thing, even if it belongs to the thing as to an instrument, must proceed from its power. But because the power of every creature is finite, it is impossible that any creature should contribute to creation, even as an instrument. For creation requires an infinite strength in the power from which it proceeds--which is clear from the following five arguments:
The first is based on the fact that the power of the maker is proportionate to the distance which lies between that which comes to be and the opposite from which it comes to be. For the stronger a coldness is and so the more distant it is from heat, the more powerful a heat is needed in order for a hot thing to come from the cold thing. But non-esse is infinitely distant from esse. This is clear from the fact that non-esse is more distant from any given determinate being than any being is, no matter how distant the latter is from the other being. And so it is possible only for an infinite power to make something from what is altogether non-being.
The second argument is this: The thing that is made is acted upon in the manner in which the thing that makes it acts. But an agent acts to the extent that it is in act; hence, the only thing that acts by itself as a whole is that which is actual as a whole--which is true only of an infinite act, which is the first act. Hence, it belongs only to an infinite power to act upon a thing with respect to [that thing's] whole substance.
The third argument is this: Since an accident has to exist in a subject, whereas the subject of an action is that which receives the action, it follows that the only thing which does not require matter in order to make something is that whose action is not an accident, but the very substance itself--which is true only of God. And so it belongs only to God to create.
The fourth argument is this: Since all secondary agent causes have the very fact that they act from the first agent, as is proved in the Liber de Causis, it is necessary that the manner and order [of acting] be imposed by the first agent on all the secondary agents, whereas neither the manner nor the order [of acting] is imposed upon it by anything. Now since the manner of acting depends on the matter which receives the action of the agent, it will belong to the first agent alone (i) to act in the absence of the matter presupposed by another agent, and (ii) to furnish the matter for all other, secondary, agents.
The fifth argument is a reduction to the impossible: It is according to the distance from potency to act that there is a ratio among the powers that reduce a thing from potency to act. For the more distant the potency is from the act, the more power is needed. Therefore, if there were a finite power that produced something from no presupposed potency, then that power would have to have some ratio to an active power which educes something from potency into act. And so there would be a ratio of no potency to some potency--which is impossible. For, as is said in Physics IV, there is no ratio of non-being to being. Therefore, one concludes that no power of a creature can create anything either by its own strength or as the instrument of another.
Summa Theologiae I, ques. 45, art. 5: "Does it belong to God alone to create?"
I reply: One should reply that, given what has preceded, it is clear enough at first glance that to create cannot be the proper action of anything except God alone. For it is necessary to trace more universal effects back to more universal and prior causes. But among all effects esse itself is the most universal. Hence, it is necessary that esse be the proper effect of the first and most universal cause, which is God. Hence, it is said in the Liber de Causis that neither an intelligence nor a noble soul gives esse except insofar as it operates by the divine operation. But to produce esse absolutely (and not just insofar as it is this being or such-and-such being) pertains to the definition of creation. Hence it is manifest that creation is the proper action of God Himself.
Now it is possible for something to participate in the proper action of another, not by its own power but instrumentally, insofar as it acts in the power of another [in virtute alterius]. For instance, it is through the power of fire that air has the action of heating and igniting. And, accordingly, some have been of the opinion that even though creation is the proper action of the universal cause, nonetheless some inferior causes can create insofar as they act in the power of the first cause. And thus Avicenna claimed that (i) the first separated substance, which is created by God, creates another after itself along with the substance of the sphere and its soul, and that (ii) the substance of the sphere creates the matter of the inferior bodies. And it is in this sense as well that the Master, in Sentences IV, dist. 5, says that God is able to communicate the power of creating to a creature, so that the creature might create through a ministry [per ministerium], not by its own authority.
But this cannot be. For a secondary instrumental cause does not participate in the action of the superior cause except insofar as it contributes dispositively, through something proper to itself, to the effect of the principal agent. Therefore, if in such a case it did nothing according to that which is proper to itself, then it would be pointlessly used for the action, nor would there have to be determinate instruments for determinate actions. For example, we see that an axe, in cutting wood ([an effect] it has because of what belongs to its own form), produces the form of a bench, which is the proper effect of the principal agent. Now that which is the proper effect of God as creator is that which is presupposed for all other effects, viz. esse without qualification [esse absolute]. Hence, it is not possible to contribute anything dispositively or instrumentally to that effect, since creation is not out of any presupposed thing which might be disposed through the action of an instrumental agent. So, therefore, it is impossible that to create should belong to any creature, either by its own proper power or instrumentally, i.e., through a ministry.
And it is especially absurd to say of a body that it creates, since a body does not act except by touching or moving, and so it requires in its action some preexistent thing which can be touched or moved--which is contrary to the definition of creation.
AD 1. Therefore, to the first objection one should reply that a perfect thing which participates in some nature makes something similar to itself not by producing that nature absolutely but rather by applying it to something. For it is not the case that this human being is able to be a cause of human nature without qualification [humanae naturae absolute], since then he would be a cause of his very self. Instead, he is a cause by virtue of which human nature is in this generated human being. And so in his action he presupposes the determinate matter through which [the one generated] is this human being. But in the same way that this human being participates in human nature [participat humanum naturam], so each created entity participates, as I have put it, in the nature of being [participat, ut ita dixerim, naturam essendi]. For God alone is His own esse, as was argued above. Therefore, no created being is able to produce any being absolutely except insofar as it causes esse in this being, and so it is necessary that that through which something is this being be presupposed for the action by which it makes something similar to itself. Now in an immaterial substance there can be no presupposed thing through which the substance is a this, since it is this substance through its form, through which it has esse, since these forms are subsistent. Therefore, an immaterial substance cannot produce another immaterial substance similar to itself with respect to its esse, but [only] with respect to some superadded perfection--as when one says that a superior angel illuminates an inferior angel. It is in this sense also that there is fatherhood among the celestial bodies, as is clear from the words of the Apostle, Ephesians 3:15, "...from which every fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named." And from this it is also evidently clear that no created being is able to cause anything unless something is presupposed--which is incompatible with the definition of creation.