“I Believe in the Maker of Moderate-Sized Dry Goods”

Katherine Sonderegger has a fine chapter on the doctrine of creation in the book Mapping Modern Theology. I especially appreciate the fact that, charged with explaining in about 23 pages how the doctrine of creation has been treated during the entire modern period, she manages to cover the main topics, mention the standard names, sketch the obvious controversies, and yet somehow go the extra mile and say some new and interesting things she has noticed in the modern discussion.

One example is what Sonderegger calls “an original and rather unexpected question” in the modern world: “When God created all that is, just what is it that he made?” You can’t just stamp your foot and say “everything,” because that was already assumed in the first part of the question (“God created all that is…”). In fact, the whole question is, what’s a thing? Because whatever it is, God made all of them. The tediously pedantic way to say it would be: the question behind the question is, what’s the thing behind the thing. But that would be annoying behind annoying, which Sonderegger’s chapter isn’t.

You could point up and down and say, biblically, “the heavens and the earth,” and go on to name everything in them. But that’s where it gets tricky. Please provide a catalog of everything in heaven and earth. Should your list include, in addition to objects and elements, also the laws obeyed by the objects and elements? Are those laws then objects, subject to God’s making? Well, yes, but it’s kind of weird to put them on my list. What other ghostly un-objecty objects might need to go on the list?

One traditional answer is “all the whole substances,” and Sonderegger traces that back into Thomas Aquinas’ answer:

Thomas knew perfectly well that the cosmos was filled with more than objects, living or inert; he knew that the world of things was qualified by innumerable properties or characteristics, and he recognized that certain immaterial realities –ideas, values, numbers, and time itself– governed much of what we call our world. These were also created by God, Thomas firmly concludes….

But here’s the Thomist twist: they’re not so much created as they are “con-created,” or created along with, the objects. They are “properties, or qualia, accompanying all that is.” When God made all the things, he didn’t have to move on to the next item on his agenda, manufacturing the properties and laws and whatnot inhering in or connecting the things. Those he con-created.

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