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




204. IN Book I. we showed that the visible universe and the minds of men are indebted for their origin to one personal infinitely perfect God, who created matter and mind by the potency of a sheer exercise of volition. Thus the Christian idea of God is justified before the tribunal of reason under a twofold aspect; for it became evident that logical reasoning from the deliverance of our senses and consciousness leads to the acknowledgment of what Christian monotheists believe both about the fundamental attributes of God and about His fundamental relation to this world as Creator of all things.

A fuller explanation and defence of the truths implicitly contained in the most fundamental attributes of God (His self-existence, unity, simplicity, infinity), formed the subject-matter of Book II. During the course of it we saw first that the infinite Divine Being is placed above all internal changes by His immutability, above all limits of duration by His eternity, beyond all boundaries of space by His immensity. From these three negative attributes we passed on to the consideration of the intellect and the will of God, those two positive attributes which constitute the Divine life. It appeared clearly that the Creator with an all-comprehensive intellectual grasp comprehends both the infinite depths of His Divinity, and the innumerable multitude of finite beings, possibilities that shall never turn to actualities, and also the whole of past, present, and future existences, including even the future free volitions of rational creatures. Next it was proved that God, knowing that He is infinitely perfect, must love Himself with absolute necessity, whilst He is free to grant or not to grant existence to things distinct from His essence. It was then shown that the exercise of Divine freedom must be one eternal irrevocable choice, and reasons were given for the compatibility of such a choice with the unchangeable state of the Divine Nature. Having after that expounded the holiness of God and the chief moral attributes comprised in it (benevolence, mercy, justice, veracity, and fidelity), we concluded the treatise on the intellectual life of God by demonstrating that He not only lives in the most proper sense of the word, but lives also an infinitely happy life.

From the consideration of the internal perfection of the Divine will we next proceeded to weigh its relation to possible finite beings, and arrived at the conclusion that under this aspect Divine volition implies infinite power, or omnipotence. The particular attributes of God thus established were in the last chapter of Book II. compared with one another; and it was found that the most fundamental of them all for the purposes of human thought, is the attribute of self-existence; that this attribute therefore deserves the appellation of "Divine Essence;" and that the name most appropriate to the Creator in opposition to His creatures is that revealed by Himself, "Jahveh," or "He who is." The fulness of being implicitly signified by this name led to the final conclusion, that God stands in such a relation to every competent and well-disposed intellect and will as to be, in the most proper sense of the term, supreme truth, supreme goodness, supreme beauty.

The reader sees from this short recapitulation that the whole of Book II. aims at bringing out logically and distinctly the import of the first fundamental truth established in Book I. viz., that "there exists a personal God, one, simple, infinitely perfect Being." It remains now to draw the logical consequences from the second fundamental dogma proved in Book I. viz., that "God is the Creator of the universe."

205. The first question suggested by the great fact of creation is this: How far do existing creatures continue to be dependent on God both as regards the continuance of their being and the exercise of their activity? It will appear from the answers to be given to this question that under a certain aspect God continually preserves all finite beings and operates immediately in all their operations. These answers call forth at once another query: What is the final goal prefixed by the Creator to the existence and actions of creatures? Is the activity He exerts in their regard such as to deserve the name of Divine providence and government? How shall we reconcile the affirmation of Divine providence and government with the evils of this world, and with what Christians believe about the eternal punishment of the wicked in the life to come? Moreover, it is an historical fact that monotheistic nations of ancient and modern times have believed and are believing still, not only in a Divine government through the means of natural laws, but also in a supernatural interference by special Divine revelations confirmed by prophecies and miracles. What is the judgment of right reason on such a belief?

CHAPTER I. Divine Preservation and Concurrence.

SECTION 1. -- The Divine conservation of creatures.

Thesis XXXIV. -- Even after it has been created, created being cannot continue to exist without continuous action on the part of God to preserve it in existence. This Divine action is called "conservation."

206. We may begin by considering how far our created being can be affected in regard to its continuance in existence by other created beings. To preserve a thing is to be in some way or other the cause of its not ceasing to be what it is. In this sense we speak of preserving health, life, good name, innocence, virtue, peace, and so on. Now, as we have proved in Book I., the being of matter as matter, and the individual being of each created spirit, human souls included, must be attributed to immediate Divine creation out of nothing. From this it follows that there is something in every creature which lies altogether beyond the domain of created causality, whether to destroy or to continue its existence. For the substance in question is either a purely corporeal thing of a lower or higher order (a piece of inanimate matter, a plant, a dumb animal), or it is a man, or it is a spirit. In the first case the basis of its individual being is matter, as matter; in the second case matter joined to spirit: in the third case spirit alone. Now the production of matter and spirit is production out of nothing, and production out of nothing, as has been previously shown, requires infinite and therefore Divine power. Such an effect manifestly cannot owe its continuance in existence to the action of any creature. The power of every creature and of all creatures together is finite, and finite power is unable to destroy what has its existence in virtue of infinite power. Therefore no creature and no multitudes of creatures can destroy even the smallest piece of matter, or the most degraded of human souls. If they cannot destroy the being of these things, evidently the preservation of such things cannot be ascribed to them.

Hence the preserving influence of creature upon creature is limited to the substantial species of material things, and to the accidental states of substances both material and spiritual. For instance, a sportsman may for a time preserve his dog as a dog by taking care of its health, he may also destroy it by a pistol-shot; but the matter of which the dog is made up cannot be destroyed either by him or by any other creature; it is, so far as created power of destruction goes, absolutely indestructible. An artisan may preserve by practice his acquired skill in his art; yet it does not belong to him to preserve the internal foundation of that skill, his own spiritual soul, and the elementary matter of which his organism is formed.

In their own sphere creatures may preserve a thing either directly or indirectly. Direct preservation is an influence without the continuation of which the thing upon which it is exercised can no longer last. Thus through the action of a source of light upon the organ of vision of sensitive beings, colours are directly preserved as actually visible; for they exist under this aspect only so long as that action lasts. For a blind man the phenomenon of colour exists only potentially, nor can the quality denoted by the term "colour" pass from potential to actual visibility in a room perfectly dark.

A thing is preserved indirectly, in that the causes are warded off which would effect its destruction. An example of indirect preservation would be the rescue of a man from drowning.

207. No created being then can preserve in existence either directly or indirectly the underlying entity of any other created being. And now the question arises: Does God preserve all things? And in what sense? The answer given in our thesis is: God preserves all things directly.

That He does not preserve all individual things indirectly is evident both from experience and reason. In mankind and in the other living beings of this world, a continual corruption and generation of specific existence is witnessed. And reason tells us that human souls and pure spirits are incorruptible substances, consequently not liable to the influence of dissolving causes, and therefore, in so far as their specific being is concerned, not capable of indirect preservation.

But we say that He preserves all things directly, and that without direct Divine preservation no created being can continue in existence. As St. Thomas says: "The existence of all creatures depends upon God in such a way that they could not last even for a moment, but would return into nothing, if the influence of Divine power did not keep them in being."{1}

And why so? For the following reasons: Since every created being consists ultimately either of matter or of spirit or is a combination of the two, and neither matter nor spirit can have their origin except in an immediate Divine act, viz., that of creation, it follows that the very basis of the being of each created substance depends for its origin exclusively on the power of God. Such a dependence is manifestly an essential one. It is like the dependence of the daylight on the sun, not like that of the offspring on its parent. But an essential dependence must last so long as the dependent object retains its own proper essence. Thus we arrive at the conclusion that every created essence depends upon the power of God so long as its existence lasts; in other words, that each creature, so long as it exists, is directly preserved by God.

The same inference may be drawn from this consideration: Every creature depends upon the free volition of God for the existence of its inmost being, in that God is free to grant or not to grant existence to finite things. But God can withdraw what depends upon His free-will, a withdrawal not to be conceived as the making of any reality, but only as a subtraction of preservation.

Hence God preserves all creatures continually and directly by not ceasing to act upon them as the cause of their being.

The last italicized phrase is meant to prevent a wrong conception of Divine preservation. It would be false and childish to conceive it with Bayle as a reiterated creation, postulated by the continual sinking back of creatures into nothingness, from which abyss they must be saved by the continual causation of their being through Divine power. If this opinion were true, there would be properly no preservation at all, but only renewal by Divine creation of interrupted existences. The relation in which Divine preservation stands to creation may be shortly put in this way: Creation is the omnipotent free volition of God conceived as causing the starting into existence of finite beings; preservation is the same omnipotent free volition of God conceived as causing the continuance of the existences already produced. It is therefore right to say: By preservation the creature receives nothing which it has not already got by creation. It would, however, be wrong and false to assert: Creatures are indebted to God immediately indeed for the first beginning of their existence; yet its continuation depends only mediately upon the Creator. This statement is to be rejected, for created beings are all under some aspect continually and immediately dependent upon God alone. For the rest it is true that under other aspects, explained above, creatures preserve creatures, but only on the supposition that the basis of their own being, the very root of their "esse," and likewise the basis of the things which they are said to preserve, be kept in existence immediately by Divine power alone.{2}

208. These explanations will throw light upon the following difficulties:

(1) Angels and human souls are incorruptible beings, and consequently cannot lose their existence as individuals of a certain species. But such incorruptible beings do not need preservation. Consequently angels and human souls need no preservation, and the doctrine that God directly preserves all creatures is false.

Answer. In this argument incorruptibility of individual existence is taken for absolute necessity. It is true that human souls and angels cannot be dissolved into component parts, and thus give rise to individual existences of other species. But nevertheless their existence is an effect of free Divine volition, and therefore is contingent, and, absolutely speaking, might cease to be. Faith supported by reason makes us infallibly sure that God will never annihilate either angels or men, and we have also good reason for thinking with St. Thomas that He will not annihilate the elementary matter which forms the basis of all corporeal beings.{3} Yet we have proved above that He could do so by withdrawal of His preservation, if He willed. To express this in the technical terms already explained in the chapter on Divine Power: God can annihilate them potentia absoluta, not, however, potentia ordinata. Hence without His preservation they would be nothing.

(2) The Creator should be able to produce effects superior in stability to those of creatures. But if no effect of God's power can last without being preserved by God, His productions are inferior to those of His creatures: for many productions of creatures, monuments of art for instance, last for centuries without any continuous action of the causes that produced them.

Answer. The apparent strength of this difficulty rests upon its attributing to the causality of creatures what really is due to the power of the Creator. All effects of creatures are modifications or transformations of subjects that owe their existence to Divine creation. After the active influence of a created cause has ceased, its effect continues only on the condition that the subject in which it exists has a natural aptitude for its retention. A chemical compound artificially produced is more or less stable in proportion as it satisfies the affinities of the elements. A machine, the maker of which has violated the laws imposed upon him by the attractive and resisting forces of its materials, is sure soon to get out of working order. The impress of a seal, which lasts in wax, is lost upon water. In a word, the durability of effects produced by creatures is altogether dependent upon the nature of the created subject in which they are produced. This subject itself has no other subject for its support, and therefore would be nothing, if the free Divine volition that produced it out of nothing, withdrew its omnipotent influence. Consequently the assumption that on the hypothesis of Divine preservation created causes would produce effects superior in stability to those produced by the Creator, is false for two reasons: first, because all stability of effects of creatures is due, not to the efficiency of the creature, but to the subjects produced by the Creator; and secondly, there is no parity between these subjects and the effects of created causes, as the former are productions out of nothing, the latter changes of pre-existing created things.

{1} "Dependet enim esse cujuslibet creaturae a Deo, ita quod nec ad momentum subsistere possent, sed in nihilum redigerentur, nisi operatione divinae virtutis conservarentur in esse." (St. Thomas, Sum. Theol. Ia. q. 104. art. I.

{2} St. Thomas, Sum. Theol. Ia. q. 104. art. 2. "Utrum Deus immediate omnem creaturam conservet."

{3} Cf. St. Thomas, Sum. Theol. Ia. q. 304. art. 4. The holy Doctor teaches in this article that God could annihilate creatures by overruling their natural aptitude to persevere in existence. But this would be a sort of miracle, not adapted to the spread of the knowledge and love of God, and therefore not to be expected.

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