Creation, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Theology

Saint Thomas Aquinas on Creation

Saint Thomas Aquinas on Heretical Ideas About Creation

The Connection Between the Following Considerations and the Preceding Ones

“I meditated upon all Thy works: I mediated upon the works of Thy hands” (Ps. 142.5).

[1] Of no thing whatever can a perfect knowledge be obtained unless its operation is known, because the measure and quality of a thing’s power is judged from the manner and type of its operation, and its power, in turn, manifests its nature; for a thing’s natural aptitude for operation follows upon its actual possession of a certain kind of nature.

[2] There are, however, two sorts of operation, as Aristotle teaches in Metaphysics IX: one that remains in the agent and is a perfection of it, as the act of sensing, understanding, and willing; another that passes over into an external thing, and is a perfection of the thing made as a result of that operation, the acts of heating, cutting and building, for example.

[3] Now, both kinds of operation belong to God: the former, in that He understands, wills, rejoices, and loves; the latter, in that He brings things into being, preserves them, and governs them. But, since the former operation is a perfection of the operator, the latter a perfection of the thing made, and since the agent is naturally prior to the thing made and is the cause of it, it follows that the first of these types of operation is the ground of the second, and naturally precedes it, as a cause precedes its effect. Clear evidence of this fact, indeed, is found in human affairs; for in the thought and will of the craftsman lie the principle and plan of the work of building.

[4] Therefore, as a simple perfection of the operator, the first type of operation claims for itself the name of operation, or, again, of action; the second, as being a perfection of the thing made, is called making so that the things which a craftsman produces by action of this kind are said to be his handiwork.

[5] Of the first type of operation in God we have already spoken in the preceding Book of this work, where we treated of the divine knowledge and will. Hence, for a complete study of the divine truth, the second operation, whereby things are made and governed by God, remains to be dealt with.

[6] In fact, this order we can gather from the words quoted above. For the Psalmist first speaks of meditation upon the first type of operation, when he says: ‘I have meditated on all Thy operation’; thus, operation is here referred to the divine act of understanding and will. Then he refers to mediation on God’s work” ‘and I meditated on the works of Thy hands’; so that by ‘the works of Thy hands’ we understand heaven and earth, and all that is brought into being by God, as the handiwork produced by a craftsman.

That the Consideration of Creatures is Useful For Instruction of Faith

[1] This sort of meditation on the divine works is indeed necessary for instruction of faith in God.

[2] First, because meditation on His works enables us in some measure to admire and reflect upon His wisdom. For things made by art are representative of the art itself, being made in likeness to the art. Now, God brought things into being by His wisdom; wherefore the Psalm (103:24) declares: ‘Thou hast made all things in wisdom.’ Hence, from reflection upon God’s works we are able to infer His wisdom, since, by a certain communication of His likeness, it is spread abroad in the things He has made. For it is written: ‘He poured her out,’ namely, wisdom, ‘upon all His works’ (Eccli. 1:10). Therefore, the Psalmist, after saying: ‘Thy knowledge is become wonderful to me: it is high, and I cannot reach it,’ and after referring to the aid of the divine illumination, when he says: ‘Night shall be my light,’ etc., confesses that he was aided in knowing the divine wisdom by reflection upon God’s works, saying: ‘Wonderful are Thy works, and my soul knoweth right well’ (Ps. 138:6, 11, 14).

[3] Secondly, this consideration [of God’s works] leads to admiration of God’s sublime power, and consequently inspires in men’s hearts reverence for God. For the power of the worker is necessarily understood to transcend the things made. And so it is said: ‘If they,’ namely, the philosophers, ‘admired their power and effects,’ namely of the heavens, stars, and elements of the world, ‘let them understand that He that made them is mightier than they’ (Wisd. 13:4). Also it is written: ‘The invisible things of God are made: His eternal power also and divinity’ (Rom. 1:20). Now, the fear and reverence of God result from this admiration. Hence, it is said: ‘Great is Thy name in might. Who shall not fear Thee, O King of Nations?’ (Jer. 10:6-7).

[4] Thirdly, this consideration incites the souls of men to the love of God’s goodness. For whatever goodness and perfection is distributed to the various creatures, in partial or particular measure, is united together in Him universally, as in the source of all goodness, as we proved in Book I. If, therefore, the goodness, beauty, and delightfulness of creatures are so alluring to the minds of men, the fountainhead of God’s own goodness, compared with the rivulets of goodness found in creatures, will draw the enkindled minds of men wholly to Itself. Hence it is said in the Psalm (91:5): ‘Thou has given me, O Lord, a delight in Thy doings, and in the works of Thy hands I shall rejoice.’ And elsewhere it is written concerning the children of men: ‘They shall be inebriated with the plenty of Thy house,’ that is, of all creatures, ‘and Thou shalt make them drink of the torrent of Thy pleasure: for with Thee is the fountain of life’ (Ps. 35:9-10). And, certain men, it is said: ‘By these good things that are seen, ‘ namely, creatures, which are good by a kind of participation, ‘they could not understand Him that is’ (Wis. 13:1), namely, truly good; indeed, is goodness itself, as was shown in Book I.

[5] Fourthly, this consideration endows men with a certain likeness to God’s perfection. For it was shown in Book I that, by knowing Himself, God beholds all other things in Himself. Since, then, the Christian faith teaches man principally about God, and makes him know creatures by the light of divine revelation, there arises in man a certain kind of likeness of God’s wisdom. So it is said: ‘But we all beholding the glory of the Lord with open face, are transformed into the same image’ (II Cor. 3:18).

[6] It is therefore evident that the consideration of creatures has its part to play in building the Christian faith. And for this reason it is said: ‘I will remember the works of the Lord, and I will declare the things I have seen: by the words of the Lord are His works’ (Ecclus. 42:15).

That Knowledge of the Nature of Creatures Serves to Destroy Errors Concerning God

[1] The consideration of creatures is further necessary, not only for the building up of truth, but also for the destruction of errors. For errors about creatures sometimes lead one astray from the truth of faith, so far as the errors are inconsistent with true knowledge of God. Now, this happens in many ways.

[2] First, because through ignorance of the nature of creatures men are sometimes so far perverted as to set up as the first cause and as God that which can only receive its being from something else; for they think that nothing exists beyond the realm of visible creatures. Such were those who identified God with this, that, and the other kind of body; and of these it was said: ‘Who have imagined either the fire, or the wind, or the swift air, or the circle of the stars, or the great water, or the sun and moon to be the gods’ (Wis. 13:2).

[3] Secondly, because they attribute to certain creatures that which belongs only to God. This also results from error concerning creatures. For what is incompatible with a thing’s nature is not ascribed to it except through ignorance of its nature – as if man were said to have three feet. Now, what belongs solely to God is incompatible with the nature of a created thing, just as that which is exclusively man’s is incompatible with another thing’s nature. Thus, it is from ignorance of the creature’s nature that the aforesaid error arises. And against this error it is said: ‘They gave the incommunicable name to stones and wood’ (Wis. 14:21). Into this error fell those who attribute the creation of things, or knowledge of the future, or the working of the miracles to causes other than God.

[4] Thirdly, because through ignorance of the creature’s nature something is subtracted from God’s power in its working upon creatures. This is evidenced in the case of those who set up two principles of reality; in those who assert that things proceed from God, not by the divine will, but by natural necessity; and again, in those who withdraw either all or some things from the divine providence, or who deny that it can work outside the ordinary course of things. For all these notions are derogatory to God’s power. Against such persons it is said: ‘Who looked upon the Almighty as if He could do nothing’ (Job 22:17), and: ‘Thou showest Thy power, when men will not believe Thee to be absolute in power’ (Wis. 12:17).

[5] Fourthly, through ignorance of the nature of things, and, consequently, of his own place in the order of the universe, this rational creature, man, who by faith is led to God as his last end, believes that he is subject to other creatures to which he is in fact superior. Such is evidently the case with those who subject human wills to the stars, and against these it is said: ‘Be not afraid of the sings of heaven, which the heathens fear’ (Jer. 10:2); and this is likewise true of those who think that angels are the creators of souls, that human souls are mortal, and, generally, of persons who hold any similar views derogatory to the dignity of man.

[6] It is, therefore, evident that the opinion is false of those who asserted that it made no difference to the truth of the faith what anyone holds about creatures, so long as one thinks rightly about God, as Augustine tells us in his book On the Origin of the Soul. For error concerning creatures, by subjecting them to causes other than God, spills over into false opinion about God, and takes men’s minds away from Him, to whom faith seeks to lead them.

[7] For this reason Scripture threatens punishment to those who err about creatures, as to unbelievers, in the words of the Psalm (27:5): ‘Because they have not understood the works of the Lord and the operations of His hands, Thou shalt destroy them, and shalt not build them up’; and: ‘These things they thought and were deceived,’ and further on: ‘They esteemed not the honor of holy souls’ (Wis. 2:21-22).

– Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles – 


– Lucas G. Westman