Phil 43150:  Aquinas on Creation


304 Malloy 631-7327

E-mail: or

Home page:

Purpose----Texts----Requirements---- Syllabus----The Short Paper----Term Paper----Online Handouts----Parallel Texts in St. Thomas

Purpose of Course:  An exploration of the central metaphysical questions involved in the claim that God creates the entities in the world ex nihilo, along with an examination of hermeneutical questions involved in the interpretation of the first chapter of the book of Genesis.  The main texts for the course will be the treatment of creation and of the work of the six days found in St. Thomas's Summa Theologiae, supplemented by the treatment of creation in Francisco Suarez's Metaphysical Disputations.  We will also take two weeks at the end of the course to explore the question of the consonance of the doctrine of creation ex nihilo with contemporary cosmology and biology.

  • All the texts for the course will be made available on the online handout section of the course website.  They are all translations of the relevant texts of Aquinas and Suarez in the instructor's own translations, along with some philosophical essays.  It is recommended that the students download them, print them double-sided, and put them into a three-ring notebook.  (This will make the text far less expensive than a course book at current prices.)  At the end of the course, we will be using some secondary sources that are also linked to the online handouts page of the course website.

  • For those interested, the Latin text of the Summa Theologiae is available online at Index Corporis Thomistici, which is maintained by Prof. Enrique Alarcon of the University of Navarre, Spain, and the Latin text of Suarez's Disputationes Metaphysicae is available at Michael Renemann's hompage.  An alternate (though, needless to say, inferior) translation of the material from the Summa Theologiae is available at the New Advent Website.

  • In addition, I am providing some supplementary material, along with class notes as available, on the course online handout page.

  • Finally, I have put on reserve in the Hesburgh Library English translations of works by St. Thomas that contain texts that touch on the same topics we will be dealing with in the course.  See this page for specific matches to particular questions in Summa Theologiae 1.

  • Before the course begins, you are required to read parts 1.1, 1.2, 2 (all), and 3 (all) of my "Suarez on Metaphysical Inquiry, Efficient Causality, and Divine Action," as well as my classnotes on Aristotle, Faith and Reason, and St. Thomas's metaphysics from Phil 30301.  This is a refresher for 30301 and goes beyond  what I do in 30301.

  • The Short paper.  Each student will be required to write a 5-7-page paper to be handed in on the last class day before break, February 27.  See below for more details on the paper topic. (25% of course grade). 

  • Class Participation (25% of course grade).  This consists of two separate things:  

    (a) You must submit to me by email, before 11:00AM on each class day, a question/comment based on the readings assigned for that day.  (When we are spending more than one day on a given topic, I will give more specific instructions about which texts are relevant for a given class.)  I expect the questions/comments to be well thought out and well articulated.  They will serve as the starting point for my class comments on the day in question.

    (b) Active participation in seminar discussions.
  • Term Paper. You are required to write a 10-12 page paper, worth 50% of the course grade. A 2-3 page proposal, plus outline, is to be submitted for approval on or before April 9; the paper itself is to be handed in on or before the last class day, April 30. See below for more details.

  • Final Exam.  If I determine that it is necessary, there will be a final exam on 5/5 at 4:15. If this dreadful possibility is realized, I will readjust the above percentages accordingly.

  • 1/28:  ST 1, q. 25, arts. 4-6:  What God can and can't do.
  • 1/30:  ST 1, q. 44:  God as first efficient, exemplar, and final cause of all things, even primary matter.
  • 2/4 and 2/6:  ST 1, q. 45, arts. 1-2, and Suarez, MD 20, section 1, ##1-26:  The nature and possibility of the act of creating.

  • 2/11 & 2/13:  ST 1, q. 45, art. 3-4, and Suarez, MD 20, section 4, ##1-17:  The ontological status of the act of creating.
  • 2/18 and 2/20:  ST 1, q. 45, art. 5, and Suarez, MD 20, section 2, ##1-13 and ##23-43:  Is an infinite power required to create?

  • 2/25 and 2/27:  ST 1, q. 45, arts. 6-8:  Divine traces and God's action in nature.  Also, read "Medieval Aristotelianism and the Case against Secondary Causation in Nature" 
  • 3/10 and 3/12:  ST 1, q. 46, and Suarez, MD 20, section 5:  The duration of created things.
  • 3/17:  ST 1, q. 47:  Diversity among created things.
  • 3/31:  Genesis 1-2, ST 1, q. 65, and Suarez, MD 20, section 3 (all):  The work of creating corporeal things.
  • 4/2:  ST 1, q. 66:  General treatment of the work of dividing, which occupies the first three days after the initial creation.
  • 4/7 and 4/9:  ST 1, q. 67-69:  The work of the first three days.

The Short Paper

The so-called "short paper" is a 5-7 page paper due on the last class day before spring break, viz., February 27.  In preparation for our discussions at the end of the course, you are to read carefully either the three papers by Bill Carroll or the two by Ernan McMullin.  (If you choose the Carroll papers and are at all familiar with contemporary cosmology, you will also find Bill Craig's piece highly illuminating.)  Your assignment is (a) to summarize concisely and yet thoroughly the main claims and arguments made by the author, making clear how St. Thomas enters into the picture, and (b) to raise well thought-out and articulated questions for future discussion.

The Term Paper
The main project for this course is a 12-15 page paper which is to be submitted on or before the last class day (April 30); a 2-3 page proposal is due on or before April 9. In what follows I will try to give you some clear indication of what I am looking for in both the paper and the proposal.
  • Comments about the paper:

    •  The topic of the paper should be connected in some fairly recognizable way with our readings and discussions.  You may try a deeper discussion of some point discussed in class.  You might pick out another work of St. Thomas's (e.g., a question or article from one of the disputed questions such as Summa Contra Gentiles or De Veritate or De Malo or De Potentia Dei) and zero in on some topic that is prominent in that work, as long as we have touched upon it in class.  There may be other possibilities as well. 

    • The paper is a fairly long one, and so you will have to plan it carefully. I expect the paper to move forward at well-marked junctures instead of merely talking around one or another point in order to fill space. I especially do not want a paper consisting primarily of loosely connected observations about some topic. Further, every paper must begin with an introduction that tells the reader exactly what you mean to do in the paper and how each section of the paper is related in general to your topic. 

    •  I expect the paper to be stylistically and grammatically beyond reproach. I will take off for sloppy sentence-structure, misspellings, dangling participles, etc. Proofreading is absolutely essential.

  • Comments about the proposal:
    • The proposal should contain two parts, viz., a narrative and an outline. The narrative should be a two-page (or so) description of the thesis or interpretation you wish to defend and of the steps by which you will defend it. In order to write this sort of narrative you already have to have a fairly detailed idea of what you want to do and the series of steps by which you propose to do it. In general, your strategy must be to construct a logical sequence of steps which will correspond to the main divisions of the paper.

    • The outline that accompanies the narrative should make graphically clear the main divisions and subdivisions in the text. This outline should include more than just the three or four main headings; I want to see some subheadings within each of those main divisions, so that I will have a reasonably clear idea of how the paper is supposed to progress.

      I encourage you to try your ideas out on one another and I also encourage you to consult with me before the proposal deadline if you think it will be helpful--either after class or by making an appointment to see me at some other time.