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

SECTION 7. -- Possibility and limitation of the world accounted for by the Divine Infinity.

Thesis XV. -- From the infinite perfection of God it can be safely inferred that (1) creation is possible, (2) that the successive or simultaneous creation of all possible substances is not possible, (3) that the creation of an infinite substance is impossible. Consequently the actually existing world is not absolutely the best possible world, although it is certainly the relatively best possible world.

86. (1) We have already explained the meaning of creation out of nothing, and have, moreover, proved the fact of creation. But the way in which creation has taken place we never can fully understand; we have nothing analogous in nature by which to illustrate it; for all actions within our experience are changes of existing things. However, though we cannot comprehend creation, we are able to give some explanations which will serve to make belief in creation easier. We have then to bear in mind that God is infinitely perfect (Th. IX.); and that His Essence possesses the perfections of all possible creatures in a higher and better way; and is therefore, as theologians say, "eminently" equivalent to an indefinite number of possible substances. It follows that seeing His Essence as it is, by His infinite Intellect, He knows by this act of cognition at the same instant all possible things. Since also His Will is infinitely powerful, He can by a mere act of will give existence to whatever possible substance He knows.

The same truth may be expressed also in the following way. An infinitely powerful Will can by its sole act originate whatever is not intrinsically repugnant. But no possible substance is intrinsically repugnant; otherwise the concept of it would mean nothing. Therefore, every possible substance can be originated by the sole act of an infinitely powerful Will. Now, as God is infinite, His Will is infinitely powerful. Consequently, by an act of His Will alone, He can call into existence any possible substance, that is, He can create it out of nothing.{13} (2) Although God by His infinite power can create any substance conceivable, yet He cannot create all intrinsically possible finite substances so that they all should exist at the same time; nor can He exhaust the category of possibilities by successive creations.

The successive creation of all conceivable finite substances would mean that God's power of creating had at length become, or was destined at length to become, exhausted. This is clearly incompatible with His infinity. A like inference proves also the impossibility of simultaneous creation of the entire category of possible substances. When that creative act was complete, God would be in the position of being unable to go on creating. There is also a further impossibility involved in simultaneous creation of all the possible substances; for it would involve the existence of an infinite number. (Cf. § 66.)

(3) The creation of an infinite substance is no less inconceivable. To be infinite and to be created are contradictory notions. The first involves the most supreme and entire independence, the other is the most intimate and absolute mode of dependence.

87. It follows that this world cannot be absolutely the best, if by "absolutely the best" we mean "so perfect that nothing could be more perfect." Whatever God may create is finite, and therefore infinitely distant from God Himself, the one absolutely perfect Being. But it may be asked: Why cannot this world be absolutely the best possible world in this sense, that no creatures can be more perfect than those which exist in it? To understand the impossibility of such optimism we must go back once more to God's infinite wisdom and power. Having infinite knowledge, He cannot devise a creature, so perfect an imitation of His immense perfection, but that possible imitations innumerable and indefinitely more perfect should remain within the scope and view of His Essence. Having infinite power, He never can create a being so perfect that the production of a better one would transcend His power. Among all created beings, therefore, there is to be found none which is absolutely the best possible.

88. Nevertheless, creation as a whole is relatively the best. For that is relatively best, which is best for the end for which it is meant, so far as it is meant for it. Now as God's wisdom is infinite, He cannot be unaware of whatever means are best suited to the end, which He wills His creatures to aim at in so far as He wills it. Moreover, being infinitely good, He cannot act but in perfect harmony with infinite wisdom. Therefore His creatures must reach their end in the most perfect way so far as He intends it. We add so far as He intends it in view of the necessary distinction between what God wills absolutely and what He wills only conditionally. A creature endowed with freedom of will may not reach its end in that way in which God intends it conditionally, namely, on the hypothesis of its co-operation with the benevolent intention of its Creator. But it is evident that every creature must reach that end which has been put before it absolutely, and to that extent must perfectly conform to the standard fixed by God's infinite wisdom.

89. This doctrine, according to which the world is not absolutely but only relatively the best, may be called Moderate Optimism. It is upheld by St. Thomas{14} and his followers. It is opposed to the Exaggerated Optimism of Leibnitz,{15} of Malebranche,{16} and of Rosmini.{17} According to Leibnitz this world is the absolutely best possible; because if it were not, there would have been no sufficient reason for God to prefer it to the rest. Malebranche believed it to be the very best conceivable; because God would not have acted in the most perfect way, as it behoves His infinite perfection to act, if He had produced a world less perfect than it might have been. Rosmini thought that no world except the existing one would have been worthy of God; because in this world alone the greatest good is effected with the least means, and thus it alone is worthy of God's goodness. We shall answer the reasons of these authors later.{18}

Having now explained how far creation is possible to God Himself, we shall pass on to the question whether God alone can create, or whether a creature may possibly be endowed by Him with the power of creating. The solution of this question will enable us to state whether God is the immediate Creator of all existing things.

{13} It is highly gratifying to find that two of the foremost champions of modern thought have nothing to object against the possibility of creation. Mill says: There is nothing to disprove the creation and government of nature by a sovereign will" (Three Essays on Religion, p. 137.)

Professor Huxley is more explicit, and as his statement as this subject agrees marvellously with the doctrine of St. Thomas and Catholic philosophers in general, we will give it in full: "Some say that the Hebrew word bara which is translated 'created,' means 'made out of nothing.' I venture to object to that rendering. not on the ground of scholarship, but of common sense. Omnipotence itself can surely no more make something out of nothing than it can make a triangular circle. What is intended by 'made out of nothing,' appears to be 'caused to come into existence,' with the implication that nothing of the same kind previously existed. It is further usually assumed that 'the heaven and the earth' means the material substance of the universe. Hence the 'Mosaic writer' is taken to imply that where nothing of a material nature previously existed, this substance appeared. That is perfectly conceivable, and therefore no one can deny that it may have happened. . . . It appears to me that the scientific investigator is wholly incompetent to say anything at all about the first origin of the material universe. The whole power of his organon vanishes when he has to step beyond the chain of natural causes and effects. No form of nebular hypothesis that I know of is necessarily connected with any view of the origination of the nebular substance." (Nineteenth Century, Feb. 1886, pp. 201, 202.)

To sum up the Professor's view on creation. He asserts: 1. To conceive creation as the change of nothing into something is tantamount to conceiving an absurdity. 2. There is no objection to creation, if you conceive it as the starting into existence of the whole of the material universe by competent power. 3. Natural science has even in our nineteenth century nothing to say against the possibility of creation. The first two of these assertions agree perfectly with the doctrine St. Thomas expounds, Sum. Theol. i. 44. 2. and 45. 1. The third assertion has the approval of all sound metaphysicians. However, the objection to the translation of 'bara' is not very strong, because the term "to make out of nothing"is according to common parlance equivalent to "to make something in such a way that it exists without having been made out of anything." The reader may compare the phrase in question with phrases like these: "I see nothing." "He knows nothing," &c.

{14} Cf. Sum. Theol. i. 25. 6.

{15} Cf. Opp. Leibnitz (Edit. Erdmann), p. 506.

{16} Cf. Malebranche, Traitté de la Nature et de la Grâce, 2, 51.

{17} Cf. Rosmini, Teodicea, n. 651.

{18} Cf. Appendix VI. pp. 467, seq.

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