Jacques Maritain Center : Natural Theology / by Bernard Boedder, S.J.

CHAPTER IV. The Fundamental Relation of God to the World. Refutation of Pantheism. Doctrine of Creation.

Introductory Remarks.

74. OUR inquiries about the First Cause of things have led us to the conclusion that there exists one self-existent, simple, infinitely perfect Being, the personal God of monotheism. We now have to show that this personal God is the First Cause of all that is not God, by creation of it all out of nothing. We will first explain what is meant by creation out of nothing, and then show that the world owes its origin to a Divine act of creation.

SECTION 1. -- Definition of Creation.

75. Creation, in the wider sense of the word, signifies a change produced in things already existing, or in the relations between them. Thus we say, that men of genius create works of art; that the Pope creates Cardinals, that a speech creates a sensation. It is evident that in the production of every such change something is originated which did not exist before; for if nothing at all resulted but what there was already, there would be no change. On this ground we might be tempted to say that every production is creation out of nothing. However, this is true only in a limited sense, inasmuch as the result of the change was previously nothing and has now become something. It is not true that there was no substratum or subject pre-existing which underwent the change. More strictly speaking, the change of a thing is not produced out of nothing, but out of something changeable.

76. Creation in the strict sense may be defined as follows with St. Thomas: "Creation is a production of a thing according to its whole substance, nothing being presupposed, whether created or increate."{1}

In explanation of this definition we may remark:

(a) Creation is production. Consequently, what is created is not without cause, but is the effect of an existing cause.

(b) Creation is the production of a thing according to its whole substance. In other words, by creation is originated the whole of a thing existing in itself. The phrase, "according to its whole substance," distinguishes creation from accidental and substantial changes. An accidental change takes place when a thing is modified and yet remains specifically the same thing. Thus a child is accidentally changed by growing bigger, by receiving sense-impressions, by moving about, by developing his intellectual faculties, &c. A substantial change supposes a substance to be specifically changed. As simple immaterial substances cannot change their kinds, only corporeal substances are capable of substantial changes. We have a substantial change in an individual body, when it manifests forces differing not only in degree but in kind from those which it had before. Thus it is probable that every chemical composition involves a substantial change of the elements combined, and it is certain that the change of inanimate matter into a living plant or animal is a substantial one.

(c) The terms of our definition explained under (a) and (b), constitute its essence; the rest is added by St. Thomas in order to illustrate the meaning of creation out of nothing more fully by opposing it to certain false theories.

a. By adding that to the production called creation nothing uncreated is presupposed, St.Thomas opposes the pantheistic error, according to which the world is an emanation from the Divine Substance.{2} By the same addition, creation out of nothing is contrasted with the Platonic notion of an uncreated matter, an error which pervaded also the philosophy of the Ionians.{3}

b. By adding that creation is a production where nothing created is presupposed, it is explicitly marked as something altogether different from the change of existing things.{4}

77. Another scholastic definition of creation taken in the strict sense of the word is the following, not easily expressed in English: Creatio est productio rei ex nihilo sui et subjecti. We may perhaps paraphrase it thus: "Creation is the production of a thing from a previous non-existence as regards itself, and also as regards any being on which the creative act was exercised." After the explanation we have given of St. Thomas' definition, this other will be sufficiently understood, if attention be paid to these two points:

(a) That is said to be produced ex nihilo sui, which is really produced. Every effect therefore is a productio ex nihilo sui, even if it consists only in the accidental or substantial change of a pre-existing thing.

(b) That is said to be produced ex nihilo sui et subjecti which is not merely the result of a change, but a whole new being, a whole substance, which exists by the power of an efficient cause, and of which nothing existed before. We have now to prove that the world originated through creation in the sense explained, and we commence by excluding the alternative suppositions.

{1} St.Thomas, Sum. Theol. i. 65. 3. c.: "Creatio autem est productio alicujus rei secundum suam totam substantiam, nullo praesupposito, quod sit vel increatum vel ab aliquo creatum"

{2} Cf. St. Thomas, Sum. Theol. i. q. 90. art. 1.

{3} Cf. St. Thomas, Sum. Theol. i. q. 44. art. 2: De Potentia, q. 3. art. 5.

{4} Cf. Contra Gent. ii. 17; De Potentia, q. 3. art. 2.

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