The glory and problem of creation

For those who see the divine as demiurge, the world is not like the god, but like the forms that the demiurge looks to. For those limited to the Aristotelian account of the divine as actuality or energia, the creature is like the divine so far as it is in act, but not according to the whole of its being. There always remains some potential part in it by which it is not like the god. The doctrine of creation takes a final, decisive step by making the totality of being a communication from the divine

The nexus between the ultimate forms and the participated beings is entirely outside the participated beings, and occurs only in the demiurge. For Aristotle, the nexus between the ultimate moving act and the moved acts is within the moved beings themselves: the energy he gives to act is the energy by which they act; but something interior an essential to them is not imparted by the first mover.

On this approach to creation, creation marks a certain limit case of putting the works of God within God himself. At the lowest level, of which demiurge theology is the noblest case, but which also includes Epicureanism and forms of deism, actual substances are placed outside of God, and he gives them, at most, some accidental form. In Aristotle, only potential reality is outside of God. In creation doctrine, no reality is outside of God. It is precisely this sort of exterior reality that we are negating with the “nihil” in creation ex nihilo.

Now one can retreat from creation ex nihilo for pious motives – if we really insist that there is no reality outside of the creative act we lose a real principle in things by which we might divide the divine from the created. Deists would never confuse God with creation since they are two totally different actualitites; Aristotle could never confuse the act of the prime mover with moved acts since there was the reality of matter that was entirely outside the activity of the first mover. But creation ex nihilo denies any reality to something outside of divine act. Just as we should challenge the Deist and Aristotelian accounts for leaving some reality with no explanation of how it is there, the creation ex nihilo account is open to challenge that it leaves us with no reality that can account for the difference between God and creation, which seem to negate any real division between God and creation.

St. Thomas might be thinking of a problem like this with his doctrine that prime matter is not created but “concreated”, though (if this is what’s going on) a problem like this deserves more than a verbal explanation.

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1 Comment

  1. Kristor said,

    October 9, 2014 at 7:13 pm

    Doesn’t the Trinity give us a way of understanding how a thing that is entirely of another thing can yet be distinct from it? Perhaps the difference between the Son and the creature is that the former participates and actualizes God exhaustively and completely, whereas the latter participates and actualizes God partially, at best.


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