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

SECTION 8. -- Proof that God alone can create.

Thesis XVI. -- Creation out of nothing involves the exercise of infinite power. Consequently God alone can create out of nothing.

90. It is evident that there must be a certain harmony between the natural perfection of efficient causes and the perfection of their activity. In proportion as the natural perfection of their substantial being is greater, must their competence as efficient causes increase; for action is a manifestation of being, and consequent upon it. Therefore, a being whose nature infinitely transcends the nature of other beings must be able to produce effects in a way infinitely transcending that in which other things produce their effects. Now between the infinite perfection of God and the perfection of any creature whatever, there is an infinite distance. God therefore must be able to produce effects in an infinitely more perfect way than creatures.

Hereupon we argue thus: If we find in the series of effects one which is out of proportion with all the rest, so that in it an efficiency is manifested with which the efficiency manifested in others cannot be compared -- that effect is the work of the infinitely powerful God alone. But a substance created out of nothing is such an effect. All other effects are mere changes of substances already created. All other effects are conditioned not only by the influence of their efficient cause, but also by the nature of the subject in which they are produced. This subject was originally a work of creation, wholly dependent upon its creating cause alone. In other words, every effect which is not creation is dependent upon creation for its support, whereas creation is not dependent upon any other effect. Under this aspect creation appears as the primary action -- to use the words of the great Aquinas -- and we must therefore conclude that it is feasible to the primary agent alone.{18} Creation is the primary efficient action, inasmuch as some creation precedes every other efficiency; as also because no other efficiency can be compared with it in excellence. Therefore that Being alone, with whose infinite excellence no other being can be compared, is able to create substances out of nothing.

91. St. Thomas suggests to us another argument.{19} The greater the disproportion between the state before the exercise of efficient causality and the state after it, the greater must be the perfection of the causality exercised. More skill is required to make a statue out of a piece of marble than a tombstone, to make a cathedral out of building materials than a factory. To make the letters of the alphabet subservient to the prosaic expression of daily occurrences is an achievement incomparably easier than to weave them into the tissue of a tragedy like Hamlet.

This being so, if between the state before the exercise of causality and the state after it there is ever an infinite disproportion, then the causality exercised must be infinitely perfect, and therefore can belong to God alone. Now this is precisely the case in creation. The individual substance created out of nothing is void of all actual existence before the Creator calls it into being. It is nothing by its own nature; whatever it is, has been produced by the power of the Creator. Now between nothing and any kind of existence there is an infinite disproportion. The power, therefore, which creates things out of nothing must be infinite; it must be the power of God alone.

92. But here it may be objected: True, the preceding arguments seem to prove that no creature can have a power adequately proportionate to the creation of another creature. This, however, does not show that a creature cannot co-operate with God as His instrument in creation. How will you show that God cannot create one creature by the instrumentality of another?

To solve this objection, we must distinguish between instrument in the proper sense, and instrument in the wider sense. An instrument, strictly speaking, is only that which produces the very effect in reference to which it is said to be instrumental, under the guidance of a higher cause. In this sense, the brush of the painter is his instrument in the production of a picture, and the sewing-machine is the instrument of the tailor in the making of a coat. They make the picture and the coat respectively, although under guidance from the human hand. Moreover, it is the part of an instrument to concur in the action of the principal agent by some action proper to itself which disposes something already existing to the effect of the principal agent. Thus the saw cuts, which is an action proper to itself and exerted on some already existing material, and therefore concurs to the production of, say, a circular plate, which is the effect after which the principal agent is striving. Hence only those effects can be wrought with the help of instruments which consist in the gradual change of some subject-matter, disposing it to a purpose. But creation, as we have seen, does not consist in the change of a subject already existing; it is rather the effecting of a subject by the power of will. Therefore instrumentality, properly speaking, cannot come into play, when creation out of nothing is to take place.{20} However, if we use the word instrument in a wider sense, to signify a cause which produces an effect, intended by God to be the condition under which He Himself will create a new substance that stands in a certain relation to the effect produced: we may then say that a creature can be the instrumental cause of a new creature. Thus parents may be said to be the instrumental causes of the souls of their children, although these souls are created by God alone, as we shall see in the following section.{21}

{18} Contra Gent. ii. 21. "Cum enim secundum ordinem agentium sit ordo activorum, eo quod nobilioris agentis nobilior est actio, oportet quad prima actio sit primi agentis propria. Creatio autem est prima actio, eo quod nullam aliam praesupponit et omnes aliae paesupponunt eam. Est igitur creatio propria Dei solius actio, qui est agens primum."

{19} St. Thomas, Sum. Theol. 1a. q. 45. art. 5. ad 2. et 3.

{20} Cf. Sum. Theol. i. 45. 5. c. § Sed hoc esse non potest.

{21} Cf. Sum. Theol. i. 118, 2. ad 3m.

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