Today’s Aquinas: Only God can Create

Today’s Aquinas: Only God can Create March 6, 2016

ThomasAquinas We’re blogging through St. Thomas Aquinas’ Compendium Theologiae, sometimes called his Shorter Summa. Find the previous posts here.
Today’s post is from Chapter 70: “Creation Possible for God Alone.”

In the previous chapter, Thomas defined creation ex nihilo, from absolutely nothing. When a human artist "creates" a work of art, he works from pre-existing materials; but if God worked only from pre-existing materials He could not be the First Cause. In order to be the First Cause, He must rather create from nothing. But can other beings also create ex nihilo? In this chapter Thomas explains why it makes sense that, as per revelation, God alone can create in this way.

As usual, Thomas looks at the problem in too ways. I confess I don't find the first argument compelling:

From this it appears, further, that God alone can be Creator. For to create is the prerogative of that cause which does not presuppose another cause that is more universal, as we saw in the preceding chapter. But such causality pertains to God alone. He alone, therefore, is Creator.

He seems to be arguing that because all other "creators" can work from pre-existing materials, it's God's sole prerogative to create ex nihilo, but that doesn't seem to follow. It's certainly in accord with revelation—"fitting" is Thomas' usual term—that God be the sole creator ex nihilo; and Thomas often does begin (especially in the Summa Theologiae) with a direct statement from revelation. Here, though, he seems to be making an incomplete argument. However, I'm quite possibly missing something.

I find his second point more convincing.

Besides, the more remote a potency is from act, the greater must be the power that reduces it to act.

In other words, it takes more effort to bake a chocolate cake if you need to grind the grain into flour, collect the eggs from the henhouse (and feed the hens regularly), and discover the New World for the chocolate. It's much easier if you have all of the ingredients ready to hand.

But whatever distance may be imagined between potency and act, the distance will ever be still greater if the very potency itself is withdrawn.

In Thomistic and Aristotelian philosophy, there's something called prime matter, which is pure potency, the potency to be anything. Prime matter is kind of like the zero in math: zero is no quantity, but it isn't a pure nothing either, and using zero makes everything easier. But creation ex nihilo isn't creation from prime matter, pure potency; it's creation from a literal and metaphysical nothing. It's bringing something into existence that had not a ghost of existence previously. And as every math student knows, the limit of a constant positive number over zero is infinity.

To create from nothing, then, requires infinite power. But God alone is infinite in power, since He alone is infinite in essence. Consequently God alone can create.

Works for me.

photo credit: Public Domain; source Wikimedia Commons

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