On the Reason for Creating

On the Reason for Creating Material Things

Material things mark the place in the universe where things begin not to exist. Material things are marked by having what is not actual as an intrinsic principle. Angels have no such principle of their being, properly speaking. There simply is no part of them that can become something else.

There is a great mystery in why God created anything at all, but even given that he did create all things, why did he create material things? What good do we shadows serve to the universe? I do not use the word “shadows” lightly. We, like shadows, have a form- but it is the form of something that when viewed in a certain real way, is a privation (see Aristotle on whether the principles of being are two or three, i.e. matter viewed as the receiver as the form is potency, matter viewed in another way is privation.)

Thomism 101 should* tell of how God created a multiplicity of things so as to have the fullest possible expression of his perfection. God could not but create things that have finite essence (see I q. 7 A. 2) and so to have the fullest possible expression of his perfection, God had to create a full plurality of essences. But finite essences arrange themselves in at least five grades.

“Essence” here means “the thing considered inasmuch as it corresponds to a definition”. Now this happens in two different ways. We can consider the definition itself, or the individual thing inasmuch as it corresponds to the definition. Both of these ways manifest themselves if we say “God willed to create individual things of a certain sort“. The “certain sort” indicates the definition of the thing that exists, the “individual thing” indicates the thing in which the definition is present. Simply put, everything that God created was an individual thing with a certain finite essence or nature. But there are five different ways of being an individual with a nature.

The first and lowest way that a nature can have individuality is to have it only in the smallest material part. Granite is an example. The only individuality that granite has is in the smallest part of granite that cannot be divided any further and still yield that kind of rock. Physically speaking (as opposed to considering the mere quantity) there is a limit to the number of times one can divide a sort of rock and still have that same sort of thing (this is obviously true on atomic theory, but St. Thomas knew it too, for different reasons.) This is the lowest possible way to have individuality, because it is an individuality that is nothing other than mere indivisibility, taken in the brutest sense of being unable to break something up into any sort of smaller parts.

The second way that a nature can have individuality is through the perfection of being alive. A plant has a greater individuality to it than merely its smallest part; rather, through its being alive, makes many diverse parts be a part of itself. The plant can act for itself inasmuch as it eats, and grows. It can even go further than this and have an activity that regards itself not as an individual, but as a bearer of a species. It does this through reproduction, through which the plant, inasmuch as it is a sort of thing, performs an action which is ordered to the perpetual existence of the plant inasmuch as it is a sort of thing (a species).

The third way that a nature can have individuality is through the sort of animals that have sensation. This happens in two different ways, that correspond the mere senses on the one hand, and memory on the other. Through the “mere” senses** an animal can have an individuality that is marked by a containment of the whole universe inasmuch as it can be apprehended through that sense. Through memory, an animal can have even a fuller individuality, for he is able to be aware of the continual existence of objects (an animal doesn’t think its prey disappears when it runs behind a tree) and through memory he has some grasp of motion, because motion requires memory to be seen as a motion, since the mobile itself needs to be remembered as being here and then being there. This sort of existence is said to augment individuality because it augments the number and quality of the things that the being has by and for itself ,because all the animal’s memories and sensations are uniquely his own. It already has all that the plant has, and more- and even what it has in common with the plant it has in a better way. The animal cannot move itself to feed, for example, and it cannot be aware in any way of its own progeny.

The fourth way that a nature can have individuality is through having knowledge that is derived from sensation. While the animal is aware, the knower is aware of his awareness, and can reflect upon it. Even if it is granted that a mere animal has an awareness of his awareness through his memory, he does not have an intellectual awareness of it. This intellectual awareness adds to the awareness of motion, for example, not only an idea of motion as such, but also an idea of motion as having a before and after, sc. Time. As a knower, the one who derives knowledge from sensation is also able to have some awareness of things that are beyond sensation by denying or negating all that is properly sensible in the things that he knows.

The fifth way that a species or nature can have individuality is through the very individual being the same as his finite species. Whereas all material things differ from their species through the individuality of matter, an angel, who is a being without matter, is an individual who is the same as his species. At this point, there is a perfect identification of an individual an its finite species, and no higher created being is possible.



*I say that Thomism 101 should include this. In point of fact, what we all expect it to include is a slapdash overview of the five ways, an uninformed reading of the treatise on law, and a chortle about the immaculate conception, which is no doubt intended to make us feel like we are smarter than St. Thomas. Absurd.

** I say the “mere” senses because as a point of teaching. I would call them the five senses, or the external senses, but anyone who has studied pit vipers might suspect that there are more to the external senses than the ones we have.


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