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

SECTION 2. -- Pantheism.

78. Thesis X. -- The world and its component elements are not affections of the Divine Substance and inherent in it, but are altogether distinct from it. Pantheism, therefore, is repugnant to reason.

This assertion is directed against the pantheists or monists, who maintain that the assemblage of things which we call the world is really the one Divine Absolute Being under various aspects; these aspects they are pleased to call sometimes moments, sometimes determinations, sometimes modes. We are not here concerned with the semi-pantheistic theories of emanation, according to which creatures are particles separated from the Divine Substance.{5} Our proposition is directed against Pantheism in its perfect form. We shall consider it only in its most general outlines, as it manifests itself in some fundamental theorems common to the well-known pantheistic systems of Spinoza,{6} Fichte,{7} Schelling,{8} and Hegel.{9}

These authors, though starting from very different principles, agree with one another in these two assertions:

I. Properly speaking, there exists only one Being. This one Being is called Substance by Spinoza, the Pure Ego by Fichte, the Absolute by Schelling,{10} the Logical Concept by Hegel.

II. The one Being evolves itself by a necessity of fate into forms of being, diverse from and opposed to one another, inasmuch as they are so many several determinations under which the First Being manifests itself; and yet at the same time all one and the same, inasmuch as it is the same First Being that manifests itself under all these diverse determinations.

79. Against these assertions we say:

(a) The attributes of the First Being, demonstrated by us in the preceding theses, compared with our external and internal experience, forbid us to admit that the same being is really common to God and to the things of this world.

We have seen that the First Being, called God, is one undivided essence, in no way composed of parts, and that He unites all perfections in the identity of His unchangeable existence. On the other hand, external and internal experience bear witness to the fact that the world round about us, and human beings themselves, form not really one undivided substance, but many separate individuals, each complete in its own being, differing from and not seldom opposed one to another in natural or voluntary tendencies. Is it not ridiculous to say that a cat is the same real being with the mouse which she devours, and with the dog that worries her, and that cat and dog alike are the same being with the master who with his whip restores peace between them? Is it not absurd to maintain that the criminal to be hanged is really the same being with the Judge who pronounces sentence of death against him, and with the executioner who carries out this sentence? And who can accept the statement that the atheist is substantially the same Being with God, whose existence he denies and whose name he blasphemes?

Moreover, experience tells us that there is nothing in the material world known to man which is not either composed of parts, or a part itself; and that, consequently, nothing is complete and perfect in its simplicity. How then can this world be really one Being with God, of whom we have proved that He is in the highest degree simple?

Finally, reason based on experience teaches us that the purely corporeal world lacks altogether the faculties of understanding and free-will, and that these faculties, even in the most gifted of the human race, are in a state of imperfection and perfectibility. It is therefore absolutely impossible that either the corporeal or the spiritual world known to men should be one with God, who, as we have proved, is infinitely perfect, and therefore under all aspects without defect, and incapable of evolving new perfections or new modes of perfection in His own Being.

80. (b) The evolution of the Deity, as stated by pantheists, is not only opposed to God's attributes, it also involves a contradiction. There is nothing by which it could be caused but the internal activity of the First Cause. Now an activity, by which the First Cause should produce in itself what it does not already possess, is inconceivable. Such production would result in effects contained in their total cause neither formally nor eminently: that is to say, neither in the same way in which they exist when produced, nor in a higher way more than equivalent to the existence of them all. The total cause of the determinations of being into which the pantheistic Deity evolves itself, is supposed to be this Deity itself, without the determinations to be evolved. For these cannot be in that Deity formally, before their evolution takes place, otherwise there would be no evolution. Nor can they be said to exist in it eminently, before they are formally actuated; because on this supposition the First Being, so far from tending by its evolution to unfold its own essence, as pantheists would have it, would tend rather to corrupt that essence and to make a monster of it.{11}

Consequently, on the pantheistic hypothesis, the First Cause is less perfect before it determines itself than it becomes by such determination: and yet this lower perfection suffices to effect the determination and raise it to a more perfect state. In other words, it is in itself the total cause of successive advancements in perfection, without previously possessing those superadded perfections either formally or eminently. Thus the pantheistic God continually violates the inviolable principle of causality. Either the principle of causality must go or pantheism.

81. (c) Finally, what becomes of morality in the pantheistic hypothesis? Is there still room for a distinction between actions really good and really bad? If pantheism be true, all actions are good. The coward and the hero, the miser and the philanthropist, the tyrant and the martyr, all are deserving of praise; for they all do what the supreme law, which rules the evolution of the Absolute, inexorably demands: their actions are nothing but a manifestation of the pantheistic God as He necessarily must be according to a law of fate inherent in His nature.{12}

{5} Concerning these theories, see § 84 below.

{6} Ethica, Pars I. Prop. vi.

{7} Grundlinien der gesammten Wissenschaftslehre (Leipzig. 1794). pp. 10, seq.

{8} Philosophie der Natur (1803), p. 67.

{9} Encyclopädie, Band. i. §§ 9, 21.

{10} Schelling considerably modified his system in his later works.

{11} Indeed, Hegel says: "What kind of an Absolute Being is that which does not contain in itself all that is actual, even evil included?" (Geschichte der Philosophie, Werke XV. p. 275; cf. Mansel Limits of Religious Thought, p. 46.)

{12} Spinoza does not seem to shrink from a barefaced acceptance of this necessary inference from his pantheistic system. Thus, for instance, he expresses himself in his Ethics, Part IV. Prop. 59, at the end of the proof: "No action considered in itself is either good or bad." And Part IV. Prop. 45, Schol. 2, he bases upon the moral principle just mentioned this practical maxim: "To enjoy ourselves -- in so far as this may be done short of satiety or disgust -- for here excess were no enjoyment -- is true wisdom."

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