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

SECTION 11. -- Creation not necessarily Eternal.

Thesis XIX. -- The decree to create is necessarily eternal, but its effect, or the resulting existence of creatures, is not necessarily eternal.

98. The way in which an eternal and yet free decree can exist in God is incomprehensible to our limited intellects; nevertheless we can understand the reason why the free decree to create must be eternal. A free choice cannot be reasonably delayed without a sufficient motive. But in God there was no sufficient motive to delay the decree to create. The reason for which free beings reasonably suspend their choice is either the fact that for the present they are not in need of an action, which later may be useful to them, or the Consciousness that choosing at once may cause them unforeseen inconveniences. But God could not suspend His decree for either of these reasons.

He is by His very essence independent of creatures; they never can be useful to Him, nor augment His infinite perfection. Moreover, whatever motives there may be to create or not to create, these motives are always and fully perceived by His infinite intellect. In the same instant in which He sees them, He sees also the result of whatever line of action He may choose. It is, therefore, inconceivable that He ever should have existed without the decree to create.

99. As to the second part of our thesis, we do not state therein that God cannot create anything from eternity; we say only that it cannot be proved that anything has been created from eternity. Our proof of this statement is as follows: The reason for which God is said to have necessarily created from eternity must lie either in the nature of His essence, or of His free decree, or in the nature of creatures, or in some combination of these motives one with another.

In God's own essence there cannot possibly be a reason why He must create from eternity if He chooses to create at all, since His essence is quite sufficient for His infinite love of good without the addition of any creatures -- a fortiori, without the addition of them from eternity. Nor can it be admitted that the existence of creatures must have the same eternity as the Divine decrees by which it is determined. As the power of Divine volition is the only efficient cause of their existence, they must exist with all the determinations and assignments with which God from eternity wills them to exist. Suppose a sovereign to make a decree ordaining that certain authorities shall come into being at certain fixed times, one a week hence, another a year hence, &c., then they would come into being according to their assignments, and not at the date of the decree. Consequently it cannot be inferred from the eternal decree of creation that the existence of creatures is from eternity, unless it be proved that God in His eternal decree has resolved to grant to creatures an existence coeternal with His decree. But this cannot be proved.

Is there, then, anything in the nature of creatures to require that their existence, if realized at all, should be eternal? None can be given. All creatures are of themselves nothing; their existence or nonexistence makes not the least alteration in God's infinitely perfect Being. It depends, therefore, upon the free choice of God to fix the limits of their duration as He pleases.

Nor does the necessity of eternal creation arise out of the relation of the Divine essence to the creative fiat or to the nature of creatures or to both.

In the relation of this decree to the Divine essence we find a reason for the eternal existence of the decree itself, but not of the creatures decreed; in the relation of the nature of creatures to the Divine essence we have a reason for affirming that God must love creatures if they exist, but no reason for the necessity of their eternal existence. If, however, we turn to the relation existing between the creative fiat and the nature of creatures, we may be tempted to think that here there is really a reason for the necessity of eternal creation. We might seem justified in arguing thus: The total cause of every creature is the free decree of God, which free decree has existed from eternity. But the total cause of an effect cannot exist without the simultaneous existence of the effect. Every creature, therefore, which really is a creature in the strict sense of the word -- that is to say, every being immediately produced out of nothing, must have existed from eternity. However, it is not at all evident that in every case without distinction the total cause of an effect cannot exist without the simultaneous existence of the effect. It is true that a cause as such bears a necessary relation to an effect. It is also true that a cause from which an effect proceeds, according to a natural law to which the cause is subjected, cannot be in the state sufficient for the production of the effect without producing it at once. But, given an infinite will able by the mere expression of its purpose to call things out of nothing into existence, it is not at all evident that it cannot remain unchangeable, and yet freely determine when the effects shall begin, of which its own infinite power is the only efficient cause. Certainly no one can discover an intrinsic contradiction in this proposition: Although the free decree to create, which is the only efficient cause of the existence of creatures, has existed from all eternity, nevertheless the creatures decreed from eternity have had a beginning, because a beginning has been fixed from eternity by this free decree.

<< ======= >>